About Sharda Divekar

Sharda Divekar is the Senior Consultant for Angel’s Professional Services (PS). Sharda has a strong background in Telecommunications, Sales Engineering and Network Management. Prior to Angel, she was involved in various performance optimization, project management and client management assignments across global wireless carriers and infrastructure providers. As a part of the Professional Services team, she assists clients with identifying Caller First opportunities, as well as implementing and driving continuous improvement from Caller First IVR's. By leveraging her technical background and marketing insight, she likes to blog on experience-driven IVR design opportunities. Sharda has an M.B.A. from University of Maryland-College Park, and M.S. in Telecommunication from University of South Florida.

Intelligent Adaptive Voice Assistants – The Future of Speech Recognition

Multilingual Voice Assistants

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released data that predicts that by 2050, 54 percent of the American population will be minorities. Given the continuing rise of mobile devices, we can also predict the majority of Americans will be connected through mobile technology and will begin hitting language barriers when using their devices to communicate with companies.

With such a significant percentage of potential future customers possessing accents with pronunciation variations, organizations should begin to invest in tools that can help support multiple language variances to communicate through speech recognition programs that will ensure a quality customer experience.

As a person of Indian descent, I’ve struggled with interactive voice response systems (IVR) not understanding my accent and I often have to resort to using text-to-speech or asking to be transferred to a representative. With voice enabled technologies increasingly used to identify users, codify, search, navigate, and control, it is imperative for speech recognition programs to be accurate and deliver consistent experience across accent variations. If a voice-based solution hopes to succeed, designing one that is responsive to a bigger demographic audience will be necessary in the coming years.

A potential solution to consider: developing a Click here to read more »


Is Your Customer Engagement Solution Really Successful?

Have you asked "Why" yet?

Recently, I watched a thought-provoking TEDTalks video in which the speaker shared a study statistically illustrating that businesses that successfully answer, “Why are we doing this?” are more successful than their peers. Be it a services industry or a product firm, as long as companies focus on getting right and incorporating the “Why,” the “How”—planning, implementation, marketing, etc.—automatically follows.

Interestingly, I can directly correlate this with my interactions during design and assessment engagements. Once the “Why” is identified, it becomes relatively easy to design a new system and to judge if the existing system is actually successful or needs improvement, and if so, where specifically.

Every business is unique, so using the same set of performance indicators across the board to measure “success” does not make sense. The response for “Why we do this” could be different across companies, even for the same service or product. Hence, branding a customer engagement management (CEM) solution as unsuccessful, just because, say, one of its indicators is lower than the industry standards, would not be correct either. Understanding the program success criteria is important to drive the specific IVR performance metrics.

Let’s consider a few scenarios:

      1. Correct User Identification Solution: Company A is a high net worth personal finance management firm that emphasizes that “personal touch,” where routing every call to the right agent is important. In that case, performance indictors like self-serviced/automation rate or containment (calls that do not reach a live agent) should not be your success criteria. For your business, having mechanisms in place to correctly identify the user, proactively recognize the call reason, with the least amount of user input, within the shortest possible duration is a good success metric.
      2. Action-Oriented Solutions: Company B has a pharmacy prescription reminder service. Now the success metrics may not necessary be containment. It is the conversion rate. Insight into the number of times customers reorder within that IVR is an important metric. Whether the business has a live agent or a self-service piece for reordering, revenue contribution from this specific channel is a good metric to judge overall program success.

The “Why” helps designers understand the goal of the solution. The more information designers have about the short-term and long-term business goals, the better aligned the solution will be and the more value businesses can get for their investment. Once the “Why” is determined, creating and mapping tasks and subtasks that lead to that goal drives the design.

Balancing between resource requirements, the pace of overall service, cross-selling opportunities, the level of self-service provided, and costs is then driven by business-specific goals. If you were to formulate an answer to the “Why” question, what would it be? Do you think it would affect how you approach your CEM’s design and success?


Using Consumer Research to Drive Scientific Experiments with IVRs

Consumer Research was one of my favorite classes in business school. Having always been a techie, I was amazed to see how science drives seemingly mundane behavior and preferences. I was surprised to read about controlled experiments and test cases being used in the real world to get a better feel for consumer attitudes, behaviors and perceptions. In most cases, this experimentation data was used to improve predictability in business, predict traffic flows, simulate end-to-end service and identify break points—all to ultimately drive the next service improvement. No wonder leveraging consumer focus groups and experimentation is an already well-established practice in the consumer goods industry and is picking up considerable momentum in the service sector!

Using Consumer Research to Build Better IVRs

If you are an enterprise client planning to invest significantly to create fulfilling consumer experiences through an IVR, to augment existing service options or to completely remodel your IVR, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to get a sneak peek into your consumer reaction? Post-launch optimization is a good practice but if you are a business handling tens of thousands of calls each day, wouldn’t pre-launch improvements give you a significant leg up?

Instead of going all-in with investments and risking customer backlash, consider instead implementing a scaled-down version of the actual site and exposing it to different consumer focus groups to study their preferences. You could experiment with different IVR call flows, voice talents, scripts framing, sequence of options, etc., and use that feedback to drive the most effective IVR.

Click here to read more »


Hold On: Making Wait Times Bearable

Wait Time

The Wait Time Blues

IVR:All of our representatives are busy; your estimated wait time is 12 minutes. Please hold, your call is important to us.

As much as customers want to trust the system and stay put, all they keep hearing is the repetitive marketing promo message alternated with a background instrumental note and the wait feels like an eternity.

Come on, system—that was definitely NOT 12 minutes. It felt more like an hour!

Research shows that customers tend to overestimate how much time they actually spend waiting and that their service perception is strongly influenced by wait times. Knowing this, businesses spend millions of dollars on behavioral research to influence perceived wait times by changing the service environment and engaging customers during wait times.

Did you know that hotels place mirrors next to elevators just to distract the guests who are waiting for them? When people are busy looking at themselves in the mirrors, they don’t feel like they are waiting as long for their elevators. For the same reason, grocery stores place reading materials in checkout lines. As customers browse through that celebrity news bit, they perceive shorter wait times. There is significant research and experimentation that goes into understanding consumer psyche and situational behavior (Reference: The Psychology of Waiting Lines)

Wait Time Satisfaction: The Science and the Spirit

With media content getting more interactive and engaging, and as science continues to reveal more and more about the human psyche, shouldn’t this interactive spirit and this science be extended to IVR wait times as well?

How about creating something fresh and interactive? If you are a bank, why not give users the option to listen to the most current news feeds on stock market movement? If you’re a firm, give customers the option to get the latest technology trends or the option to listen to the top 10 music hits or the option to hear movie reviews for the current week—in short, spice up their wait time. If your customers have agreed to endure that gloomy 10-minute wait time just because they want to desperately speak to a live agent, reward them with a pleasant surprise.

If we can creatively generate content by which users feel so engaged during the wait that their perceived wait time is much shorter, wouldn’t that be great? Additionally, businesses reduce costs and service opinion improves!

Some systems offer an agent call back option, if wait times are estimated to be more than a certain limit. These services would be very complementary. Providing content to your customers does involve additional cost, but with strategic partnerships, these costs could be lowered. With clever marketing, content can be made relevant to your business style, brand, location and target segment.

IVR:Sorry, I see there is a long wait time. While you wait, would you like to experience our live channel? Here we offer the latest in entertainment, news and stock market updates. Rest assured, once an agent is available, you will be immediately transferred. So, would you like to hear this week’s top movie reviews by critics, facilitated by our partner?”


You’ve Got Call!

You've Got Call

A Double-edged Sword: Outbound IVR

One afternoon last week, I was in the middle of a meeting and saw an incoming call on my cell. Because I was expecting a call from my daughter’s daycare center, I excused myself and rushed out to answer…only to discover an automated message from some random “credit check” company on the other line. Now that was annoying!

Comparing inbound versus outbound IVRs will quickly reveal that sustaining high user containment in outbound IVRs is definitely more challenging. People really don’t want their personal information to be used to receive scam marketing calls or false credit alert phone calls. And although customers have slowly adapted to getting scam emails (and have learned how to avoid them), they are generally not yet used to IVR scam phone calls. Personally, I listen to the first three to five seconds of an IVR message,  and if I don’t know the caller, it’s hang-up time.

One of my very rare “happy” moments with an outbound IVR call was a courtesy call I recently received from United Airlines. I had a significant number of miles due to expire and they called to remind me. After sending me friendly mail reminders, followed by reward partnership booklets and invitations—which, me being me, I looked at and then forgot to act on—their next course of action was an outbound IVR call. A United Airlines IVR called me and offered to enroll me for a free magazine subscription and to give me gift cards; within four touches, it was done! And who doesn’t love free stuff? I am now a loyal United Airlines customer because I know they take their “Friendly Skies” slogan seriously; they really want me to get those perks! It shows discipline and differentiated service.

The Takeaway

If used effectively, outbound IVRs could be your company’s answer to providing customers with that “wow” experience. Very often, IVRs tend to be the first touch point where customers experience your true brand and get a glimpse of your company’s values and culture. Feel-good taglines and corporate slogans like “Always by your side” and “You will love doing business with us” get their stress test during an actual customer interaction. If you really stand by your corporate values, shouldn’t they drip down to every customer touch point and, in fact, drive the business decisions to create the right tools, processes and triggers around it? If you truly want to provide differentiated service, wouldn’t you want to follow through until you actually get the desired outcome—customer engagement?

It all starts with building trust; that is the precursor to everything else. You want customers to trust you so that they listen and act. In the process of building trust, and therefore legitimacy, for your business, remember that having IVR as the only touch point can backfire. Supporting it with supplementary channels will boost containment within IVRs. Build that trust with prior email reminders, direct mail and notifications. Communicate enough, directly or through your in-store personnel and partners, to inform customers about your procedures and IVR triggers, so customers know that answering that call is critical.

With the right intentions, consistent communication, business processes and relationship development efforts, your customers will be just waiting to get that call from you!