Brett King

Posts Tagged ‘call centre’

Bank IVR improvements: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

In Media, Retail Banking, Technology Innovation on March 5, 2010 at 08:15

IVR’s or Interactive Voice Response systems are for many customers the bane of our existence. There is nothing more dehumanizing than ringing a bank, airline, telephone company or service provider and having to navigate through a multitude of options that at best are confusing. Well all of that is about to change…

In the next few years IVR systems will integrate voice response. Already in some parts of the world voice recognition is starting to take hold with you using your voice to select menu options, say names of destinations, restaurants or businesses, etc to select the desired result. Today we are seeing more and more banks integrating voice recognition into their IVR systems—Citibank, Wells Fargo and HSBC, just to name a few. But let’s get this straight from the outset. Voice recognition rarely reduces cost on its own; it normally represents a nominal increase in cost. However, by the time we get this technology right, will we actually get cost improvements? In directory service utilisation and many booking systems, voice recognition has been shown to show reductions in total call times. In bank IVR systems, the gains are less certain.

IVR is a long-term viable solution for best practice. When customers can say what they need—for example,“help me with a payment” or “I’ve lost my credit card”—and we can respond appropriately, then not only will customer service perception rise positively, but bank costs will be reduced as calls get diverted quickly to exactly where customers need to go. Much of the problem with current IVR systems is purely that menu systems are not intuitive. More often than not, it appears like the IVR system is just a virtual menu representation of the bank organization structure and no one has actually thought of using this vehicle to help customers.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of IVR systems is that they take away the human element. When the bank IVR system responds in a more human fashion, then this perception will be reversed. This is undoubtedly where speech recognition is going over the next five to ten years, so the sooner banks get in on the action, learn the nuances of these systems and transition customers to the
new approach, the better.

A recent development in speech recognition, though, can immediately improve customer service levels. Imagine you are a customer with a complaint or an issue. You ring your bank only to get the dreaded IVR system. After having to navigate 16 levels of the IVR, you are hardly going to be in a better frame of mind to speak to a CSR and hear their possible solution. Yet this is what happens every day in most banks.

An angry customer dealing with an IVR system

IVR systems can make upset customers more angry

New technologies in voice recognition enable us to determine if a customer is angry or unhappy. Remember, tone of voice represents a very large part of our verbal communication capability. Thus, emotive voice recognition allows us to flag an unhappy customer and immediately transfer him to someone who is trained specifically to deal with such customers. It does this through the combination of four different types of Acoustic/Prosodic technologies, namely from Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Dialogue Manager (DM) and Context features.

Just a tip with this technology though. After the system detects the customer is upset, it would probably be better for the IVR not to say, “The system has detected that you are upset; we are transferring you to a highly trained specialist who is used to dealing with customers like you …”


An organization structure that doesn’t match customer behavior

In Retail Banking, Strategy on October 26, 2009 at 13:11

Excerpt from Chapter 2 – Measuring the Customer Experience

By examining the behaviour of customers, the glaring realization is that institutions are essentially assuming that customers only ever use one channel at a time to interact with them. Hence, it is not unusual to find a web team that believes that it can take 30-40% of branch traffic and service it online. Likewise it is not unusual to hear proponents of Branch banking telling us “the branch is back” and that the winning strategy is to be investing in more real estate and variations of branch to retain customers. It’s also not unusual for customers to receive dozens of direct mail offers, email marketing offers or sms promotions from different ‘revenue centres’ within the bank independent of each other.

In 2008 90-95% of daily transactions are done electronically and in most cases the majority of transaction volume comes through direct channels namely ATM, Call Centre and Internet. By February of 2007, HSBC in Hong Kong reported in the South China Morning Post that 90% of their daily transactions were through phone, Internet or ATM, leaving the rest to branch. RaboBank, FirstDirect, INGDirect, and others have been able to successfully operate without any reliance on branch structures. This is not a criticism of branches, because we believe that branches will remain an essential part of the future of banking. However, look at the organization structure of most banks today and you’ll see a complete and total lack of understanding of customer behaviour inherit within the organization chart. It’s really quite appalling that the organization structure of many banks have not caught up with this reality.

When you examine the organization structure of most retail banks, the Head of Branch networks is second only to the Head of Retail, and in many cases is a direct report to the CEO. In comparison the manager responsible for Internet often sits under the IT or Marketing departments three or four levels below the organizational equivalent of the branch business unit lead. So let’s get this straight. 90% of the transactions go through channels that are managed by managers who have only a modicum of influence within the organization structure, while the head of Branches has the ear of the CEO and looks after just 5-10% of the daily traffic within the bank.

Figure - Partial Retail Banking Org Chart as it relates to channel priorities

Figure - Partial Retail Banking Org Chart as it relates to channel priorities

“Ah, but the branch generates all the revenue…” we’ve heard it argued. This is a really good justification for keeping traditional structures in place. Well let us really examine if that is the case.

Let us take credit card acquisitions as an example. How do we market credit cards? Currently we might use direct mail, newspaper advertisements, web and possibly promotional marketing offering a ‘free gift’ if clients sign up for a new Visa card or Mastercard. Customers are then faced with probably two or three choices of how to apply. The first option is that they can call the call centre, but the call centre refers them to the branch because they need to present proof of income and proof of identity to an officer of the bank. The same might be the case for the internet, where the application can be filled online, but we then call them and ask them to come into the branch to complete the application.

Who gets to record the revenue for the credit card application? Not the call centre, or the internet channel. Often it is the physical branch that executes the final signature on the application form and the KYC compliance check on the proof of income – so it happily records the revenue of the sale. But the branch has actually had practically zero involvement in the sale, and simply is just a ‘step’ in a required adherence to an outmoded compliance process. So does the branch actually generate the revenue, or is it merely an accounting treatment?

The attitude of many retail banking senior executives seems to be that the branch is a serious banking channel, whereas the remainder of “alternative” channels are just that – alternatives to the ‘real thing’. The problem is that customers simply don’t think like this. They don’t assign a higher value or priority to the branch; they just see it as one of the many channels they can choose to do their banking. In fact, many customers these days choose not to go the branch because they don’t want to stand in line, or they find it troublesome to get to the branch at times when they are open. Admittedly the branch is the premium service channel, but it is not the ONLY channel. So why don’t the banks think the way customers do?

The longer banks choose to reinforce a belief that the branch is superior within the organization structure, the longer it will take them to match the performance of the bank to the changing behaviour of retail customers.

From ATM, Call Centre and Web stats to iPhone Banking App

In Mobile Banking on October 18, 2009 at 04:48

Excerpt from BANK 2.0 – Chapter 6: Mobile Banking

Here is a snapshot globally of typical top-5 monthly requests or active transaction demand via ATM, Call Centre and Internet Banking. This is taken from a series of research projects, analytics, customer focus groups and surveys . But from market to market the trends are generally consistent with some local variations around specific bill payment types or similar. The data can easily be verified for your institution by checking for transaction usage data on the ATM, Call Centre and IVR transaction statistics, and total web analytics (probably through web trends or similar). The Top-5 for each channel are:

Top 5 transaction types globally for ATM, Call Centre and Web respectively (

Top 5 transaction types globally for ATM, Call Centre and Web respectively

So above is actually the perfect base functionality for an iPhone or Android Application for ALL of your customers. The only one of these we can’t do is the cash withdrawal function, although mobile payments may make that increasingly redundant.

There are really two classifications of bank-enabled functionality embedded here in an application. The first classification is transactional, the second is content. Account Balance, Credit Card Balance, Recent Transactions, Loyalty program miles/points balance and Bill Payments content can be data that is streamed to a customer’s phone. In fact customers may even pay for this as a service. Functionality such as Transfers, initiating a Bill Payment or Credit Card Payment, need interaction through a transactional platform.

The clear proposition here is that the customer registers his application through the bank or through the app store and puts in an initial level of authentication into the application so that the streaming data can be delivered or refreshed each time the app fires up. If the account information shown is limited to the last four digits of the account number, there is hardly a risk of abuse. Even if the phone is lost, the streamed data is just informational with no content that is open to abuse through fraud, etc.

The additional transactions such as transfers could be confirmed with a secure login or authentication each time, just as with Internet Banking.