It’s Time To Start Reading Our Customers’ Minds

BLOG VIEW: This year is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the enduring sci-fi franchise that now has multiple generations of television and movie fans.

Reading about the anniversary got me thinking about Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind meld. It allowed our friend Spock to link minds with another person, get inside that person’s head and know exactly what he or she was thinking. Pretty cool trick.

There are times when we could all benefit from that ability, even in our call centers. When a customer contacts a mortgage company, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask why he or she is calling. “How may I help you today?” seems like a sensible question for a customer service representative to ask.

But suppose we could improve that process by reading the minds of our customers, anticipating why they are calling. If we could do that, we would be able to provide a higher level of customer service, improving customer satisfaction while, at the same time, reducing the average call length.

It’s the stuff of science fiction, but we really can pull it off now, to some degree.

Of course, we cannot read minds – at least not yet – but we can carefully examine what we know about the caller to predict the most likely reason he or she is calling. We can then respond more effectively, satisfying the customer and improving call center efficiency.

A Mind-Reading IVR

Let’s consider first an interactive voice response (IVR) application. Rather than presenting the same series of menus to each caller, we can build logic into the IVR application to look at a range of account information and historical data to see if the caller fits certain highly predictable patterns. Consider, for example, the following:

Has the borrower recently requested a payoff statement? If so, make a request for an updated payoff statement the top IVR menu option.

Is the borrower in an area recently affected by a natural disaster? The IVR script should note the natural disaster in the borrower’s area and ask if he or she has suffered property damage and needs to speak with an insurance specialist.

Does the borrower typically call at this time of the month to make an automated phone payment? Make a phone payment the top menu option.

Have payments recently been made from the borrower’s escrow account for the payment of property taxes or insurance? As soon as the borrower has authenticated, the IVR should provide details on the recent account activity.

IVR design efforts like these will allow borrowers more immediate access to the information they are looking for and will reduce the number of calls requiring an agent.

Mind-Reading Customer Service Representatives

Now, suppose we carried this same design philosophy to the desktop. When a call arrives at the agent’s desktop, we should do more than just “pop” the typical core system data screen with the borrower’s account information. We should provide as much information as possible for agents to help them provide an exceptional customer experience. A separate caller data screen should be presented at the same time as the core system data screen. It could help determine, for example, the following:

  • Who’s calling? For many callers who authenticate in the IVR, it is possible to know whether the borrower or co-borrower is calling. That caller’s name should be displayed.
  • How long has the caller been on hold? The caller data screen should display the actual hold time. Agents are better equipped if they know in advance that the caller has been subjected to elevator music for an extended period of time, and say something like, “I apologize for the delay in getting to your call.”
  • Why is the borrower calling? Of course, we cannot know for sure, but we may have some clues as to why the caller has been sent to an agent. The caller data screen should display the last IVR function accessed by the caller and the reason the IVR transferred the call (caller pressed “0,” automated payoff could not be generated because of investor restrictions, phone payment could not be completed because of bad ABA routing code, etc.).

No one has perfected the Vulcan mind meld (though I’m sure someone is working on an iPhone app right now). Until it comes along, we can do the next best thing: carefully use the information we have to anticipate our customers’ needs.

Barry Hays is co-founder and senior vice president of TeleVoice, a provider of contact center technology to the financial services industry.

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