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Nuance's Jeff Foley on Call Steering

Speech Applications & Solutions

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September 21, 2006

Nuance's Jeff Foley on Call Steering

By Stefania Viscusi, TMCnet Assistant Editor


In the past, calling into a contact center with a self-service IVR or touchtone system wasn't always a pleasant experience for some callers. Frustration with mazes of menu options, having to repeat oneself and being routed to the wrong destination were all reasons behind caller hang-ups and 'zero outs'.
In the present, much focus has been placed on the quality of support these telephone self-service systems offer and finding a way to maximize the caller experience.
As a solution, Nuance Communications developed Call Steering to offer call centers an accurate, cost-effective way of directing callers to the appropriate destination.
Nuance's (News - Alert) call steering solutions give callers the ability to describe in their own words, their reason for calling into the system. This not only improves the caller’s experience but also gives agents more time and attention to focus on the callers who truly need their assistance.
I had a chance recently to speak with Jeff Foley, Solutions Marketing Manager at Nuance about Call Steering, how it works, and its benefits.
..What is Call Steering….
Call Steering is unique because unlike systems of the past, it is able to use the information a caller speaks and intelligently route them instead of forcing callers to choose how to categorize their problem.  For example, a caller could say, “I have a, uhhh, billing question,” or “Yeah, can you tell me, um… when I made my last payment?” and the system will accurately route the caller.
"From a technology standpoint, we go beyond the capabilities of the recognition engine itself. Instead of telling it in advance, ‘These are the menu options people can choose’ and forcing callers to pick one, we train the system with tens of thousands of example requests. Very quickly the system can easily identify callers’ requests and direct them accordingly, even if they don’t obviously fit into a predefined category," explained Jeff.
Letting callers use speech as a way of interacting with self-service telephone support systems offers improvements in automation rates and increases overall customer satisfaction.
"With Call Steering, you're opening the floor and letting callers express their needs so they are not focusing on ’what choice should I make’ but are instead focusing on ‘what is my problem.’ We’ve found this allows us to answer their questions a lot quicker," added Foley.
When the Call Steering system needs more information to understand what a caller meant, it asks additional questions. And the system can always be trained with new possible requests.
"Call Steering gives callers the ability to explain their problem briefly and be routed quickly to their destination so they can resolve issues faster,"  commented Foley.
Offering improvements in automation rates is important for companies that suffer from misrouted calls. Misroutes have a financial effect on  call centers and increase the length of a call-- further frustrating callers who are being bounced around.
Call Steering provides a solution to the problem of call misroutes.  It directs callers from a single access point so that callers don’t have to bounce between different customer service numbers.
"We've seen as high as 35 percent reported misroutes of calls that maybe just ended up in the wrong place. Even 5 or 10 percent for a call center with a significant call volume can add up and be a significant drag on the efficiency of the call center," commented Jeff.
Call Steering is not for everyone. Companies with only a few menu choices would not need a complex way of mapping all requests onto those options, explained Jeff. 
For companies who may have one or two popular options, Jeff suggests blended call steering as an option.
"A great example is in the utilities industry. Reporting an outage is usually the top reason people call customer service. So some utilities’ self-service systems start the conversation with a voice menu that asks if the caller is reporting an outage. Once the system has eliminated that option, it switches to a Call Steering solution to allow callers to openly express what they need,” described Jeff.
Using Call Steering gives contact centers a way to efficiently handle requests that might otherwise be buried several options deep in a menu tree. "By flattening the menu, you can avoid losing callers in the system. Even better, callers don’t have to hit zero just to get an answer to a simple question."
….And the benefits are…
Customer satisfaction
Even though it's still new within the marketplace, Call Steering is making a splash by providing benefits that extend to both callers and contact centers. Companies are realizing that the best way to improve automation rates is to provide a better experience for callers.
"The recent trend is a focus on caller satisfaction. Call Steering is becoming a very clear winner in solving that problem," explained Jeff. 
Callers who are more satisfied with their interaction with the system are more likely to use it in the future instead of hitting zero.
More Unified Branding
Another benefit of Call Steering is unified branding. "Many companies maintain separate numbers for separate tasks: customer service, automated account info, and new sales. By consolidating multiple phone numbers for one company, callers have a single access point for all calls--and organizations have a more consistent touch point with callers."
With a more consistent voice for the caller, companies can recognize improvements in loyalty and a stronger relationship with their customers.
"A Call Steering implementation is a great way to unify branding. Once callers get through the front door, they can then get to the support they need behind that."
Cost Savings
Call Steering also provides call centers with cost savings. Shortened call times get callers to the right destination accurately and quickly -- which reduces misroutes and incremental costs. By encouraging callers to use a friendlier, more capable self-service system, Call Steering can save money by improving the system’s overall automation rate. 
When developing these applications for customer service, Nuance's focus is on providing an optimal customer experience, Jeff explained. "The goal is to show the value of automation to callers so that they will want to use the system. Callers shouldn’t feel they have to avoid the automated system. Instead, they should realize the value of it, and want to use it."
ATMs, kiosks and other automated self-service options may have received some opposition initially, but they have proven to be a great commodity in completing tasks without human assistance. Without a doubt, Call Steering will follow the same path, bringing efficiency to the call center via an accurate and cost effective solution for routing calls.
For more on Nuance's Call Steering Solutions visit:
Stefania Viscusi is an established writer and avid reader. To see more of her articles, please visit Stefania Viscusi’s columnist page.

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