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The E.Newspaper
By Dr. Howdy, Ph.D.
A.P.E., N.U.T.

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Humor + Letters From Readers
Add Something Yourself



A UNC student named Jill calls her friend Linda,
Linda picks up the phone.

Jill says "Do ya wanna go to the mall with me?"
Linda asks "why?"
Jill replies, "I need to buy cosmetics"
Linda asks "why"
Jill replies "Well, my english prof says,
'I have a make-up exam on monday "

Bumper Snickers

"Born Free. . . . .Taxed to Death"

"As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools"

"Laugh alone and the world thinks you're an idiot."

"Sometimes I wake up grumpy; Other times I let her sleep"

"He who laughs last thinks slowest"

"i souport publik edekasion"

"Why is 'abbreviation' such a long word?"
Companies that rely on automated call centers have been weathering a consumer backlash in recent weeks. For all its benefit to businesses, the technology that greets callers of help lines often invokes responses ranging from mild annoyance to downright fury.

Many people can relate to the experience of calling customer service and being forced to navigate a complicated maze, or to repeat information constantly, before finally reaching a live person on the other end -- if at all. In fact, more than half of the respondents to a recent survey by the consulting company Accenture said the automated customer experience was much like driving in city traffic.

"It's slow and oftentimes [customers] have had to take alternate routes in order to get to their intended destinations," said Robert Wollan, Accenture's senior executive for customer contact transformation.

Boston-based blogger Paul English had plenty of people talking in December when he posted his "IVR (Interactive Voice Response) Cheat Sheet," which reveals the steps to take, words to say, and buttons to push to talk to a live human when negotiating the automated systems at more than 250 companies.

Attention from the news media was swift. English, CTO and cofounder of the travel-search site Kayak.com and a former vice president at Intuit, found himself the subject of stories from news outlets including The Wall Street Journal and "The Today Show."

It wasn't long before the industry responded. Angel.com, a 1,500-client-strong provider of contact-center and IVR technologies, has set up "IVR University" online, a certification program designed to promote best practices at companies that use such automated systems. Angel.com even put its own "cheat sheet" online to guide businesses in making their automated systems more friendly to customers.

"The international media and consumer attention that Paul English's IVR Cheat Sheet has generated has sent a clear signal that many IVRs do not meet consumer standards," said Michael Zirngibl, President and CEO of Angel.com, in announcing IVR U.

If Overwhelmed, Press 1 Now

As the marketplace swells with more-complex products, technologies, and capabilities, the need for customer support has grown accordingly. The bundling of DSL and phone services, for example, is placing more demands on call centers.

"Handling the increasing number and complexity of the customer intentions is now beyond a simple set of transactions in most industries, so customers have to be carefully led to the right place," Wollan said.

When asked to identify the most important aspect of fulfilling their expectations, 34 percent of Accenture's respondents said it was the ability to immediately assist them with a problem as opposed to being forwarded to someone else. "So in other words, when they finally do get to someone, will the agent be able to solve their problems without having to transfer them to someone else?" Wollan said.

According to Forrester Research vice president Elizabeth Herrell, companies need to do a better job of getting the technology to work for them. "Having customers get caught up in a tangle of commands and layers and never getting to an agent has been a constant source of IVR frustration for years," she said, and, as a result, calls are directed only somewhat effectively.

"But don't shoot the technology," she added. "It's not the technology's fault if a company doesn't use it as intended" or if a company deliberately makes it difficult to get in touch with a live person, she said. Instead, the technology must be seen as being of benefit from the customer's point of view, not just as a boon to the enterprise, she said.

Some companies have fared better than others in providing customers with the responses they actually need. "Airlines have done this well for a long time," Herrell said. "If I only want to know gate information, I can go in and say, 'Flight at 10:45' and get the info without even needing to know the flight number."

However, the airline industry has the advantage of dealing with a lower number of customer inquiries, Wollan pointed out. "This enables the airlines to put information in a transactional format that enables customers to get quickly to the smaller number of things they need to know."

Understanding Customer Intentions

"Customers really look for a quick resolution of their inquiry or problem -- irrespective of whether it is provided by the IVR/self-service system or a live agent," said Frost & Sullivan Contact Center Program Leader Ashwin Iyer.

"Automation by itself is not the answer," he said. "Automating a bad process is in fact more unhelpful than not automating at all." In addition, a poorly designed system can frustrate a customer even before he or she gets to an agent, Iyer said.

To deal with customers in the best manner possible, businesses "really need to understand the intentions of their customers as well as the way they want to be treated," Wollan said.

For example, there are ways to identify customers who have had a problem not just once or twice, but several times, he said. The company then can flag the customer and route him or her to a specialist who is focused on that specific problem.

Iyer said that innovations in automation will make this kind of service run more smoothly. "IVR and self-service systems are constantly improving as companies embrace emerging technologies such as speech recognition and integrate with other contact-center and CRM (customer-relationship management) systems," Iyer said.

However, Iyer said, before becoming too enamored of new technologies, IVR administrators would do well to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid): Don't make the caller repeat the same information when transferred between systems or to a live agent, and always have an easy option to speak with a live agent.

"Personalization will be the next big wave in IVRs," Iyer said. "Presenting customized menus lends itself to a positive caller experience.... Integration with CRM databases is key to achieving this."

In the meantime, companies need to avoid incorporating processes that end up abusing their customer relationships. "Not too long ago did we hear about consumer complaints against some companies over account cancellation malpractices," Iyer said. "In these cases, the companies had systems for rewarding agents who talked subscribers into not canceling their service. In many instances, such retention was done against the customer's wishes or without their knowledge or consent."

Steering Through the Maze

"For low-priced, commodity-type products, automation is the most realistic venue as profit margins dictate that companies deploy LTC (lowest total cost of ownership) options, which are typically voice-automated, Web self-service, or offshore," said Leslie Ament, director of customer-intelligence research at Aberdeen Group. "For higher-priced products or consultative services such as furniture or retail financial services, the right balance between automation and live agent becomes more complex."

Ament said customer frustration is being fed in equal parts by the maze customers must confront as well as by the lack of expertise available once they finally get to where they're going. Businesses need to determine whether or not their automation is really getting the right problems to the correct specialists, she said.

"Organizations would do well to build decision trees and develop workflow processes to handle probable escalations or situations likely to occur based on previous customer interactions," Ament said.

"Not enough process planning goes into a typical customer support scenario," she added, "which leads to greater annoyance once the customer does reach a live agent. Fueled by frustration, customers perceive a lack of expertise once they do reach a live agent, because so many cycles have been spent going through the maze."

All told, she said, it is "a vicious cycle meant to reduce costs, which in reality reduces customer satisfaction and retention rates" -- which cuts into profit. And that, as any business will tell you, is something nobody wants.

Outsourcing Is No Panacea

Companies also just can't write off customer satisfaction by outsourcing the problem, because the quality of the caller's experience depends on how well overseas agents are trained.

"Are the agents overseas being provided with a scripted response with no room for interpretation, and have they been taken through language-neutral training to make them more flexible in handling the calls?" Herrell asked. "It's no answer if a customer dealing with an offshore agent has to takes 30 minutes instead of five minutes to complete the call because the overseas agent is struggling to get things right."

Good customer service is not about the location, but rather the training and background that businesses provide to their agents, she said.

"If companies work with outsourcers to build a structure that requires accent neutralization, cultural affinity, and a company product background -- if it makes the investment in their people -- then the performance could be good," Herrell said. "But if they are merely going to a lowest-cost location, to an area that has already been mined for agents with English proficiency, then their customer service will falter."

Call of Duty

Companies owe it to their customers to have processes in place to ensure customer satisfaction, and then design applications to provide the desired level of experience, Wollan said. If customers try to execute a transaction and "get two-thirds of the way done only to be automatically routed to an agent, the experience only further exacerbates the issue of customer loyalty," he said.

Some of the large companies now doing it right have moved to speech versus touch tone, Herrell said, and have tied their automated systems to databases. "If I provide you with customer information about my account, that should automatically generate account information. And if I go to a live agent, nothing should have to be repeated in that call," she said. "Anything put in the touch-tone system or speed system should not have to be repeated unless for clarification purposes."

Improving customer satisfaction with automated systems is a daunting task, to be sure, but if the reaction to Paul English's cheat sheet is any indication, that mission has become an absolute necessity.

One company has even gone so far as to make it the focus of its latest ad campaign. In new commercials for Citibank's "Simplicity" card, hapless customers are shown shouting embarrassing passwords into their cell phones, garnering annoyed looks from passersby, and losing signal once they finally reach somebody. In one commercial, a man accidentally sets his kitchen on fire because he's so distracted by the constant prompts on the help line.

"Just press zero anytime," Citibank's ads say.

"Companies need to start with the existing customer experience on their systems and build back the tools, technologies, and processes that will help them communicate better with their customers," Herrell said. "Technology can only support a process that works. If the process is broken, technology cannot solve the problem."
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Finale - William Tell Overture

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* * * Four important things to KNOW: #1) For ALL (Americans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhist, Asians, Presbyterians, Europeans, Baptist, Brazilians, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc.) have sinned & fall short of the glory of God. #2) For the wages of above (see #1) are DEATH (Hell, eternal separation from God, & damnation) but the Gift (free & at no charge to you) of God (Creator, Jehovah, & Trinity) is Eternal Life (Heaven) through (in union with) Jesus Christ (God, Lord, 2nd Person of The Trinity, Messiah, Prince of Peace & Savior of the World). #3) For God so greatly loved & dearly prized the world (Americans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhist, Asians, Presbyterians, Europeans, Baptist, Brazilians, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc.) that He even gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, that whosoever (anyone, anywhere, anytime - while still living) believes (trust in, relies on, clings to, depends completely on) Him shall have eternal (everlasting) life (heaven). #4) Jesus said: "I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, & THE LIFE. No one (male/female - American, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Asian, Presbyterian, European, Baptist, Brazilian, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc. ) comes (arrives) to the Father (with GOD in Heaven) EXCEPT BY (through) ME (no other name). *** This wonderful loving GOD gives you the choice - - - (Rev. 3:20) {Please note that church membership, baptism, doing good things, etc. are not requirements for becoming a Christian - however they are great afterwards!!!} *** Jesus said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction (Hell, damnation, eternal punishment), and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life (Heaven, eternal happiness, forever with God), and only a few find it.

D I S C L A I M E R If someone should ask if it's legal to download songs
found on various non-commercial sites, such as this one.

Well, I'm neither a lawyer nor a technician,
and I've begun to wonder if it was legal for
us to tape music off the radio back when
tape recorders first came into being.

And were we committing a crime when we recorded
a movie shown on TV with our VCRs? And was it
really legal to buy a dual-deck recorder for the
express purpose of duplicating cassettes?

My answer to all of the above is, "I don't know."

Nonetheless, here is a formal statement in
some kind of legalize that appears to apply
to this kind of file availability:

The songs on this site are copyrighted by their respective artists and are placed here
for evaluation purposes only. No profits or sales are made on this site from their use.

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