How ROI Analysis of Your IVR Project. Can Help You Recover. From the Economic Downturn. Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Written by Haim Argaman

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1 How ROI Analysis of Your IVR Project Can Help You Recover From the Economic Downturn Written by Haim Argaman Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. January 2010

2 Table of Contents 1. Executive Summary Customer Service following Tough Economic Times Forecast the Outcome: How to Minimize Risk on an IVR Implementation Aspects of ROI Analysis Conclusion About Crimsonet...12 Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 2

3 1. Executive Summary Boosting profitability following an economic downturn is always challenging, but not necessarily impossible. Often businesses will have reacted to an economic downturn by cutting costs in customer service because it is usually perceived as a non-revenue generating department. However, companies which have cut costs in customer service during an economic downturn may have lost loyal clients when they were most needed. The challenge following an economic slowdown is to come up with a plan that addresses both how to improve customer service and how to minimize costs. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are an effective means of maintaining and increasing profitability following an economic slowdown. Through sophisticated automated service systems, call queues can be decreased, as well as wait times and call length. However, a mechanism is required to ensure that the IVR system can effectively resolve any cost-cutting measures following an economic downturn. Thus, ROI analysis is critical to minimize risk in the implementation of new or updated IVR systems. It is a multi-step process involving many interrelated parameters. In order to achieve accurate ROI analysis, an in-depth knowledge of the deployment process is required. It is highly advisable to have an IVR industry expert verify the projected returns. With proper expertise, ROI analysis can optimize the project scope that would yield the best returns and forecast the expected savings. Ultimately, quality ROI analysis should establish that a planned IVR enhancement is optimally functional and worth implementing. ROI analysis should allow executives to justify IVR system implementation with a clear business case in a worry-free process. Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 3

4 2. Customer Service following Tough Economic Times Many companies were concerned with staying afloat through the economic downturn. Oftentimes businesses responded by focusing on short-term goals to weather the poor economic forecast. This meant companies would cut costs where there was no immediate revenue, such as in customer service departments. Such business decisions, however, can be detrimental as an economic downturn begins to lift. While businesses were cutting costs wherever they could, clients were striving to spend less. The result was that companies were forced into greater competition, and customers were likely to be more fickle. In an economic slowdown, clients become less tolerant of declining customer service quality and more likely to switch to the competition. Let s look at a common business scenario during an economic slowdown. A medium-size business will cut spending by decreasing operational costs. The busines may decrease the number of agents, thereby increasing wait times and decreasing the quality of service. The system will rely heavily on the existing IVR system, which may be old and/or out-of-date. Disenchanted callers will be less satisfied, and the customer base will begin to drop. The result is that the company will have to invest more on acquiring new clients following an economic slowdown, and acquiring new clients is substantially more expensive than maintaining old ones. In fact, a 2006 article in the Journal of Marketing Science argues that Since the cost of obtaining a new consumer is very high and the profitability of a loyal consumer grows with the relationship s duration, understanding loyalty cultivation or retention is key to long-term profitability 1. Moreover, the price of lost clients goes beyond the financial. Companies often suffer damage to their reputation which can be difficult to dispel. Ultimately, there are two conflicting goals during and after an economic downturn: maintaining service quality to hold on to existing clients, and 1 Chiou, J., & Droge, C. (2006). Service Quality, Trust, Specific Asset Investment, and Expertise: Direct and Indirect Effects in a Satisfaction-Loyalty Framework. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 34(4), 613. Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 4

5 minimizing operational costs to maintain profitability. But are these goals really as incompatible as they seem? Cutting Costs through IVR Automation Knowing how to maintain customer service quality while cutting costs is the secret to coming out of an economic slowdown. Research shows that highquality IVR systems reduce operational costs by decreasing call times and the need for costly human agents. Estimates from the Call Center Handbook show that, Depending on the application, you can siphon off from 20 to as much as 60 percent of your calls, or even more 2. In this case, quality process automation means having a tailored, tuned and speech-enabled IVR system. If an IVR system is implemented correctly, calls can even be resolved without a human agent. For example, automated self-service scheduling allows callers to book appointments on their own. An IVR system can list available time slots, and callers can book appointments without speaking to a representative at all. Why IVR is Necessary to Maintain Client Satisfaction People often envision IVR systems as ineffectual, laborious systems, but a welldesigned speech-enabled IVR system can dramatically improve both the speed and quality of a customer service experience, and thus significantly increase customer satisfaction. In fact, a well-implemented voice recognition system can often increase call volume as a result of improved service, and this possibility must be considered in planning improvements to a voice recognition system. A financial institute in the US, for example, saw an 18% increase in call volume with a simple IVR system update. Instead of speaking with an agent, callers could verify their account balance by entering their account number and a confidential PIN. The self-service implementation decreased caller queues, and the wait time decreased 21% to an average of one minute, even when there was an increase in calls. The decreased wait time decreased the drop rate while minimizing the hold time, thus increasing the overall call volume. 2 Dawson, K. (2003). The Call Center Handbook. San Francisco: CMP Books, Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 5

6 3. Forecast the Outcome: How to Minimize Risk on an IVR Implementation Assuming you decide to improve your existing IVR system or implement a new one, how can you be sure your investment will yield the expected outcome? Increased call volume is a good example of an unexpected outcome which can interfere with projected system results. To ensure profitability and create an appropriate IVR system design tailored to business needs, careful ROI analysis is necessary to anticipate such hidden costs and accurately predict the system outcome. Previous IVR implementations show that an IVR system should pay for itself in less than 18 months; in some cases it can be as short as a few months. In some publications, the costs of automation average 25 cents online and 45 cents by phone if callers only get information via IVR systems. This means IVR systems average just 5% to 10% of the cost of live service transactions. Note that these are approximate estimates and only ROI analysis can establish the savings of an IVR implementation within a particular business environment. In addition to reducing costs, quality ROI analysis needs to assess the impact of increased customer satisfaction. Careful and in-depth review and scoping of the suggested IVR system allows businesses to tap into projected improvements. Scoping of alternative project scenarios ensures that ROI is maximized. The risks of failing to meet business goals, prematurely releasing agents, mistakenly alienating customers, or investing in a project with low returns can all be avoided, but only if pre-development analysis is properly performed. For a company expecting high financial returns, the effects of poor ROI analysis may be detrimental. The newly implemented IVR functionality might be working perfectly as designed, but without the required impact on business goals. Ultimately, ROI analysis is an in-depth process with many stages, and if not enacted properly, projected returns may fall significantly short of originally anticipated estimates. Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 6

7 4. Aspects of ROI Analysis ROI analysis is particularly useful to guarantee profitability during an economic downturn. An accurate assessment of the costs of deployment, as well as the projected returns, requires intimate knowledge of each phase of IVR project implementation and the technological measures to be used in each phase. In particular, there should be thorough analysis to project returns on the following measures: Business Efficiency: A new or updated IVR system must be well-integrated with the operation of a business to function optimally. This requires detailed project scoping to choose the best scenario that will maximize efficiency and ROI. There are always multiple scenarios to consider. For voice recognition systems that are being updated with new functionality, it must be ensured that the new system reaches the requested business goals. ROI analysis for business efficiency determines software compatibility and removes any redundant or useless functions. A large American Internet Provider support line, for instance, requested long account numbers from clients who would occasionally enter a wrong number. By implementing an automatic caller verification system before calls were transferred to an agent, agents always had the relevant information and could more efficiently handle calls. Financial Investment: ROI analysis should ensure that financial investment in an IVR project will cover its own costs. In addition, it should project how long the new system will take to pay for itself. Such detailed financial analysis requires indepth knowledge of each phase of IVR project deployment and its associated costs. These phases include strategic project planning, voice usability testing, application development supervision, system piloting, and post-deployment monitoring. ROI analysis for financial investment calculates overall expenditure and returns to ensure global profitability. Usability and Customer Satisfaction: ROI analysis assesses how increased customer satisfaction can maximize the profitability of an IVR project. Improved Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 7

8 IVR scripts, better usability, and an enhanced VUI design all result in higher customer loyalty that ultimately impacts a company s bottom-line with lower churn rates and increased sales. Before initiating usability testing, ROI analysis considers how customer churn rates can be decreased with better quality customer service and establishes the corresponding impact on a company s future sales. Example: ROI Analysis on an IVR system for a Health Insurance Company The process of performing ROI on new IVR systems varies widely between companies. The interaction of variables such as call length, hold time, and drop rates in IVR systems make ROI analysis a particularly complex process. Without knowing how these variables interact prior to and following deployment, the return on investment can be easily miscalculated. This was the case with one company, a health insurance firm in the US. The company s self-performed ROI analysis yielded dramatically higher results than expected. After the company consulted with experts, it was clear that their ROI analysis was overstated due to its simplified calculations. They subsequently restructured the proposed change in their IVR system and performed a new indepth ROI analysis that yielded satisfactory and realistic returns, and the project was launched. Whereas the company s proposed IVR system would have acquired relevant account information before sending callers through to an agent, the new schema allowed for a full-on self-service option. The company s baseline IVR system had only a touchtone function to route callers through several streams. In this example, we will focus on the sales department and the claims inquiries department. With an approximate hold time of 12 minutes, and a call drop rate of 36%, it is clear that a more efficient IVR system would improve this company s performance. The newly proposed speech-enabled IVR allows customers to satisfy informational requests and verify the status of their claims independently. Important or sensitive calls requiring agent assistance, particularly those where new policies may be sold, are thus routed to live representatives. Representatives are more available due to the IVR handling simple inquiry calls. Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 8

9 The company s initial ROI analysis generally overlooked the interaction of variables, and the calculations could not reliably predict the company s return on investment. The main measures to be assessed in the ROI analysis of a new system involve both operational costs and caller behaviour, including: hold time, call volume, call length, call drop rate, zero out rate, churn rate, and sales conversion rate. With many inextricably related variables, ROI analysis for IVR systems is often very complex (see figures A and B). Figure A: As call volume rises, hold time increases, drop rate increases, and churn rate increases, ultimately lowering call volume Figure B: With lower call volume, hold time decreases, drop rate decreases, and churn rate decreases too, ultimately encouraging more calls and increasing call volume Let s look at how measures interact and see how pre-development ROI analysis for this health insurance company can impact its calculations. With a self-service option in place, caller queues for live agents had virtually disappeared and call length had been dramatically reduced due to the automated handling of many calls. This had decreased the call drop rate as a result of the shorter hold time. Over time, customer satisfaction had risen due to the improved service, lowering the annual 6.7% churn rate and ultimately increasing the number of incoming calls. Let s explore some other complex trends in this company s ROI analysis and the questions they raise: A) On the one hand, the average length of an agent-assisted call may increase because shorter and simpler calls will be handled by the IVR system. On the other hand, the IVR system will be used to gather basic account information before routing callers to agents, cutting an average of 12 seconds from agentassisted calls. How do you account for both trends in one calculation? Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 9

10 B) While agent-assisted call volume should decrease due to the implementation of a self-service system, the dropped calls that are saved may increase the global call volume. How will call volume ultimately be affected, and how will it affect the business? C) With non-revenue generating calls usually handled by the self-service IVR system, one may expect a higher agent sales conversion rate. Similarly, the progressive rise in customer satisfaction should impact the number of sales. How should the impact of customer satisfaction on the sales conversion rate factor into ROI analysis? D) Over time, lower churn rates will ultimately increase the company s call volume. If not properly anticipated, the increased call volume will result in higher hold times and a higher call drop rate, which will end up increasing the churn rate again. How can ROI analysis anticipate potential changes in call volume to keep churn rates down? The above issues in ROI analysis show that self-service IVR system enhancement requires extensive experience with IVR systems, as well as knowledge of caller patterns in the wider business context. The questions raised can only be resolved with a strong understanding of how different measures interact. It is important to recognize that every case is different. See figure C for the observed effects of the new IVR system within this particular health insurance company. Figure C: In the case of this insurance company, call length was steadily rising prior to implementation. Note how the call length was dramatically reduced with the new IVR implementation and the long-term impact this had on the company's customer satisfaction and churn rate. Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 10

11 5. Conclusion Maintaining profitability through difficult times is the product of company investment decisions that are weighted with greater-than-normal significance. Going above and beyond to keep clients satisfied following an economic downturn is the key to gaining high returns. Thus, IVR systems remain one of the most expedient means of answering the problems of an economic downturn. Still, there are many different system and deployment scenarios to consider. Thus, before you initiate a suggested IVR enhancement project, ROI analysis is necessary and advisable to ensure business goals are met, on top of keeping clients satisfied. What ROI analysis offers is a low-risk path to IVR system deployment. With so many interdependent variables, it is not a set of simple calculations, however, and it must be undertaken with an awareness of the intricacies and complexities of IVR systems. Proper ROI analysis requires an expert who understands the operation of IVR systems and the dynamics of customer service calls. In-depth ROI analysis ensures that the system results are accurately mapped, avoiding unexpected results such as surpassed budgets, increased hold times, low caller satisfaction, and various other possibilities. Given the heightened pressure on businesses caused by an economic slowdown, when investments take on greater relative weight and a company s budget constraints become more salient, quality ROI analysis is particularly crucial as the economy regains its footing. With improved customer service, lower operation costs, and increased profitability, expert ROI analysis can see companies out of an economic downturn unscathed - or even stronger than when they entered it. Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 11

12 6. About Crimsonet Crimsonet offers IVR and voice recognition software consulting for call centers and businesses through all phases of the software development life cycle. With the company s specialty in ROI analysis, Crimsonet ensures that IVR investments yield the expected results. Crimsonet s services include, among others, infrastructural and ROI analysis, strategic planning, VUI design, usability testing, IVR project management and supervision, and post-deployment monitoring and tuning. Crimsonet s voice recognition consulting services are an asset in helping companies reach their business goals through the use of new and updated IVR systems. As part of the company s strategy, Crimsonet features a strong orientation towards financial and business goals. Crimsonet regards every voice recognition project above all as a business investment, gearing IVR projects towards specific company goals. High-level experience in telecommunications and software development allow Crimsonet to translate these company goals into system requirements. Ultimately, Crimsonet s orientation towards business needs guarantees higher returns and a more worthwhile company investment. As well as an invaluable business approach to IVR systems, Crimsonet offers a one-stop approach to IVR projects. The company manages all the work of subcontracting and coordination. Beginning with ROI analysis, Crimsonet creates business models that maximize project returns and minimize risk. Subsequent strategic planning and project scoping create a game plan for the application development and deployment of IVR systems. In addition, Crimsonet leads system testing and tuning for optimal functioning, and finally sets up a post-deployment monitoring system to guarantee continued efficiency. From beginning to end, Crimsonet aims to make speech recognition projects a success. For more information on IVR system implementation and Crimsonet s consulting services, visit the Crimsonet Website at or our blog at Copyright 2010 Crimsonet Technologies, Inc. Page 12

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