Delivering the Message
By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor
Automated outbound messaging – voice, IVR, fax, e-mail and SMS/text messaging are and can be used to handle a wide range of interactions – is becoming a key instrument in every organization’s customer interaction tool shed. These tasks include and range from appointment reminders to billing, collections, crew notifications, fraud alerts, airline gate and schedule changes, prescription refill reminders, and in accordance with
the law fundraising and telemarketing.
These tools are also becoming more feature-rich. For example, CSG Interactive Messaging’s Precision eCare suite offers companies’ customers the ease of receiving monthly statements attached to secure e-mails. It offers new technology that enables customers to view and pay their bills directly via interactive features embedded in dynamic .pdf files.
Automated messaging is becoming popular because it provides immediate notification of and subsequent action on issues and offers while avoiding the high costs of outbound and inbound live agent calls while permitting better agent utilization by deploying them to higher-value contacts. DMG Consulting’s 2010 Outbound Dialing Market Research Report projects that the outbound voice notification market will grow by 20 percent, 18 percent and 16 percent respectively between 2010 and 2012. In contrast, traditional live agent dialing market will grow by 6 percent, 7 percent and 8 percent respectively over the same period.
The cost savings are substantial. Ann Cannon, vice president of CSG Interactive Messaging, reports that automated messaging will typically save from 50 percent to 95 percent over live agented costs.
“Enterprises are driven toward automated messaging by that cost differential, while leveraging their agented resources to address higher value functions such as premium customer service and later stage collections,” says Cannon.
Automated messaging capabilities can be purchased and installed on-premises, usually as part of or integrated with
contact routing platforms. Or they can be obtained via hosting either by suppliers or by third-party firms. These message services minimize upfront costs and are highly scalable. They are sometimes offered with other services including inbound IVR and speech recognition and live agent voice, e-mail and chat.
“Much of the market growth is coming from the desire of enterprises to grow and retain current customers while removing costs,” says Steve Gass, senior director, West Notifications Group. “Trends that our clients are asking us for are solutions that drive customer loyalty, growth and cost reducing efficiencies.”
Automated messaging solutions and services have been adjusting to changing environments and needs. Just as outbound live agent telemarketing has been forced, by overuse and abuse to become de facto opt-in, prodded by government regulations that have been formulated in response to consumer complaints, this especially goes for all automated telemarketing means.
For example the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) now and will be prohibiting respectively automated prerecorded voice telemarketing calls to existing consumer customers: unless they have previously agreed to accept them from sellers; they must have recipients’ signed written agreements to receive them. Such calls must include an automated, interactive mechanism by which consumers can opt out of such outreach. And while automated calls made on behalf of charities are exempt they must allow consumers to opt-out.
One key driver in these moves is a shift in consumer communications from landline to wireless, abetted by number portability that clouds the distinction, resulting in outbound message calls potentially costing recipients money depending on their plans. Another mover is consumers’ wishes for privacy and not to be interrupted by marketing messages especially, such as when they are engaged on their computers or wireless devices with others. Today’s milieu is that the consumers are in charge and if firms want their business they need to listen including to how they want to be contacted.
Messaging firms are getting the message. For example, SoundBite Communications’ (News - Alert) Proactive Preference Management Solution Suite captures and stores consumer opt-in, opt-out and communications preferences. Using the Message Opt-In Solution clients can also request, collect and track customers’ communication permissions. The solution proactively requests consumer consent and communications
preferences and stores the data in one central location, providing organizations with an integrated view of their consumers’ preferences.
The Drive to SMS
The move by consumers and businesses to wireless is shifting contacts to SMS/text from voice and e-mail. SMS messages are faster to send, and are read much quicker than e-mail. Not surprisingly increasing numbers of business messages are being sent via SMS rather than by e-mail or automated voice.
Varolii provides hosted outbound multichannel, including SMS notifications solutions. Kael Kelly, senior director of marketing at Varolii, reports that 89 percent of U.S. residents subscribe to a mobile service. According to a CNET story as far back as September 2008, U.S. consumers send and receive almost twice as many text messages than phone calls they make or receive in a month Also, a vast majority of people read SMS within 15 minutes of getting them as opposed to e-mail, which may sit in their inboxes for hours or days.
“We’re accustomed to seeing e-mail as less time sensitive, sitting in someone’s inbox for awhile unfortunately in many cases gets lost before the recipients had chance to open it, but when we get a text or a voice call including an automated voice message we act on them,” says Kelly.
Will this mean that automated voice or e-mail will go away? No more than TV replaced movies says Cannon.
What is happening is segmentation of the media according to the performance parameters and consumer preferences, she points out. The automated messaging industry is long familiar with time-of-day and day-of-week preferences with respect to calling hours, for example. Dynamically switching between interactive voice, SMS, Web and e-mail channels recognizes the differing social and technical environments consumers move through during their daily lives.
“Going forward, automated messaging providers will need to fully manage and utilize all the communication channels and social media sites,” says Cannon. “This is to not only to tailor messaging to customer preferences but to also allow businesses to get the most ‘bang for their buck’ as they build their customer interaction strategies for acquiring, activating, retaining and growing profitable customer relationships.”
Integrating Messaging and Live Agents
There is integration between automated outbound voice, e-mail, SMS and inbound IVR/speech rec along with live agent channels that are taking place to enable seamless customer interactions.
SoundBite’s Engage multi-channel platform offers just that. Here is one example of the interactions it supports: a credit card company sends outbound voice message to a customer alerting him/her of potential fraudulent card activity. The cardholder can verify the transaction using automated prompts or on the same call connect directly to live specialist to confirm that the transaction is fraudulent.
Similarly, a customer can communicate with an organization via text messaging. Leveraging the SoundBite Engage Platform, SoundBite’s Contact Center Text Messaging Solution, enables fully-automated or agent-assisted interactive text messaging.
Here’s how it works: a mobile customer can initiate or respond to a text message. The solution views the message
and automatically responds with a personalized text message. If the message warrants special attention, then the message will be routed to a contact center agent who can access the entire history and respond accordingly. The entire text conversation can transition seamlessly from agent to automation and vice-versa, depending on the consumer’s most recent response.
One key feature of the solution is the SoundBite Dialog Engine. It uses enhanced keyword search functionality to support fully-automated, interactive text messaging conversations that implement custom business logic. The tool enables creating recipient-relevant and personalized messages. The Dialog Engine supports one-way alerts and interactive messages, opt-in and opt-out requests, real-time automated issue resolutions and other self-service options.
Another key functionality of the Contact Center Text Messaging Solution is the SoundBite Agent Text Portal that allows contact center agents to log in and view message history and interact with customers in real-time via a Web user interface. Agents can engage in multiple text conversations simultaneously using predefined or free-form messages. Supervisors can monitor agent activity as well as the overall campaign status.
West is providing its clients with tools that allow them to take control over campaign creation and management through a self-serve user interface, offering their customers the ability to set their communication preferences through a preference management tool. It is also offering new delivery channels such as rich mobile applications.
“The enterprise can take advantage of latest technologies and trends that automate many of the functions an agent or IVR perform today,” says Gass. “They are able to communicate with their customers in the best mode possible. Setting up programs for campaigns can be a challenge as enterprises are moving to designing contact strategies which are made up of combinations of inbound and outbound communication channels. Striking the right balance is extremely important to achieving expected or desired results.
The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:
CSG Interactive Messaging
West Notifications Group
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