Implementing a Next-Generation IVR

Green Mountail Energy Co.’s new solution offers more flexibility

by Heidi Schrab

Contact centers implement interactive voice response (IVR) solutions to better serve their customers. After all, IVR solutions give customers 24-hour access to information and services and help reduce queue times for reaching agents. But what happens when an organization discovers that its IVR system is actually frustrating callers and forcing them to request agent assistance for routine transactions? And, to make matters worse, that it’s nearly impossible to modify the legacy framework to accommodate customers’ evolving requirements?

Green Mountain Energy Company was faced with this dilemma, and decided to treat it as an opportunity to reevaluate how it was serving its customers and how it could become more adaptable in the future.

Legacy System was Inflexible

Green Mountain has made a strong commitment to providing outstanding customer service but unfortunately, the old bill pay IVR application wasn’t meeting projected automation rates. The voice user interface, which determined how the caller was interacting with the IVR application, was confusing callers. It had poor speech recognition rates and required customers to enter too many pieces of information in order to be identified. Many customers chose to “opt out” of the system, requesting live agent assistance.

It became clear very quickly that making changes to the existing IVR system would be extremely time-consuming and expensive. The legacy system was outdated and inflexible. Green Mountain needed a user-friendly solution that could evolve as customer needs evolved, minimize customer frustration and encourage customers to complete transactions through the IVR instead of opting for a live agent.

Green Mountain decided on an open, standards-based IVR solution, the Envox 6 Communications Development Platform, a next-generation, open IVR solution that offers flexibility and interoperability, ensuring rapid adoption of new standards and emerging technologies. Next, the voice user interface for the bill pay application was streamlined. Envox designed the new solution to pre-identify customers by checking the phone number from which they were calling against customer records in the database plus one additional piece of customer-specific data to register as a match. If a match is found, the call is considered valid and the bill pay application script plays right away. If the customer is calling from another place–work, cell, etc.–he or she is prompted for his or her home telephone number (and matching data) to begin the process. The new solution features robust speech recognition software from Nuance in both English and Spanish for caller convenience.

In keeping with Green Mountain’s commitment to open, standards-based solutions, the IVR solution was developed using VoiceXML. Using VoiceXML ensures that Green Mountain’s bill pay solution is portable and can easily integrate with web-based applications, IT infrastructures and backoffice applications. Additionally, the solution was designed with a web services interface to Green Mountain’s web-based bill pay application.

The Benefits

Separating the IVR’s voice front-end from the solution’s application logic and database integration layer provides greater flexibility to improve all aspects of the solution. For example, Green Mountain can upgrade its back-office without having to do the new integration work twice, once for the web application and again for the IVR application. This approach provides important enterprise agility benefits and protects the company’s technology and application development investments.

Green Mountain chose to have its solution hosted by Envox OnDemand. This reduced the company’s upfront start-up costs because no equipment had to purchased and set up on-site. Going the hosted route also enabled Green Mountain to quickly launch its new IVR solution. From kick-off to production deployment, the entire project took just two months.

Today, Green Mountain processes approximately 180,000 calls per month with the bill pay IVR solution, and processes twice as many payments through the IVR compared to past performance. Decreasing the number of calls vying for agent assistance has also yielded faster service for those customers that do require personal attention. Green Mountain has gained an open, flexible voice solution that will ensure rapid adoption of new standards and emerging technologies going forward.

Author

Heidi Schrab is director of operations for Green Mountain Energy Company,a retail provider of electricity productsgenerated from sources such as wind, solar,water, geothermal,biomass and naturalgas, serving residential,business, institutionaland governmental customers.The company isbased in Austin, Texas. For more information,visit www.greenmountain.com.

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