Moving Forward in Today’s Economy

Acclaim Telecom is a proud member of The Metroplex Technology Business Council based in Richardson, Texas.

One of the benefits of membership with this organization is the opportunity to hear and speak with industry leaders in the technology community. One such opportunity occurred recently, and since the state of the economy seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, we thought this summary would be of interest.

On March 5, 2010 IBM’s Chief Economist Dr. Phil Swan was in Dallas to present to The Metroplex Technology Business Council. In Dr. Swan’s role, he evaluates economic data at the macro and microeconomic level, and advises the executive staff of IBM to assist their strategic decision making process.

As you might expect, Dr. Swan’s presentation contained a mix of news about the economic recovery, and specifically some interesting data on Information Technology’s contribution to the recovery. Some of Dr. Swan’s observations include:

  • On a positive note, from 1995 to 2008 the U.S. utilized Information Technology to increase productivity growth better than any other country. Better than Japan, the European Union or the OECD. In fact from 2001 to 2008, Dr. Swan attributed 60% of U.S. productivity increase to Information Technology usage.
  • In 1980 total Government Debt as a share of GDP was 37%. In Q3 of 2009, total Government Debt as a share of GDP was 69.2%. This current debt level severely constrains both Government and private industry investments in areas that could contribute to growth in a positive manner.
  • Between Dec. 2007 to Q4 of 2009, the number of unemployed increased by 7.6 million, the under employed increased by 5.6 million, for a total increase of 13.2 million. Over 7.5 million jobs would have to be created to bring unemployment back down to 5%. The best year ever for net new jobs creation was 1984 in which 4.2 million new jobs were created. So what does this mean? It would take 2 years of unprecedented job growth to create the 7.5 million needed jobs to reduce unemployment back to 5%
  • A real time measurement of the health of the economy is the Purchasing Managers Manufacturing Index. From second half of 2008 to Jan / Feb 2010, the index increased from 42 to 58.4 in the U.S. Any number greater than 50 is positive news for the economy although we would like to see an even higher number than the 58.4.
  • Increasing corporate profits bode well for rising business capital outlays. The global inventory correction (I.e. moving from limited or a no stock inventory position) is turning into production gains due to the need to replenish inventory levels. This production gain is a positive influence on the economic recovery.

So what was the final message? Dr. Swan was somewhat optimistic that the economic recovery will continue with a positive trajectory. The GDP recovery however will likely proceed at a much slower rate than the past decade, and most likely at an average of between 2.0 – 2.5% year over year growth.

Confession from an IVR Company

I have a confession to make. I sometimes hate IVR as much as the next person. It’s true, despite the fact that our company makes a living in the IVR industry. So what’s up?

Is the problem that IVR applications seem to prevent a customer or potential customer from actually speaking with a live person when they really want to? Or is it a more fundamental problem of incorrect usage of IVR technologies? Frankly it can be both, but most of the time I submit the problem is the latter…poor application usage.

If IVR were a truly “evil” technology (as some like to gleefully proclaim), no one would use it. If IVR applications could not have a positive impact a firm’s operational effectiveness and customer satisfaction, firms would not invest the money and time to implement these systems.

When considering the use of IVR technologies (whether you are enhancing an existing application, or considering your first usage), it is important to clearly understand the desired business results as well as the impact on the user’s experience. Like all things in life, if the experience is not positive or at least an effective experience, you increase the risk of losing an existing customer, or alienating a potential new customer.

There are many considerations that go into a successfully deployed IVR application, far too many to discuss in this blog entry. But as a starter, consider some of these basic concepts from a user’s point of view as you evaluate how to best deploy your IVR application.

  • Is your IVR application going to be used for simple or complex information retrieval or transactions?
  • Is the information being sought from the IVR system going to require cognitive human decision making skills, or primarily straight forward data retrieval or capture?
  • Will you provide a trap door that allows a caller to “zero” out and speak with a person? If not, how many times have you ever heard the IVR introduction to say there are no operators standing by?
  • Have you studied or polled your customers as to what information they would prefer to retrieve from an IVR system vs. what you want to provide from the IVR application?
  • How easy and at what point in the application do you allow someone to exit the IVR application and speak with a live agent?
  • Are you going to force the user to listen to a series of commercials before they can interact with the system, or do you actually ask the caller if they would like to hear additional information?
  • How logical (and effective) is the actual call flow when presenting the options to the caller?

The fundamental message we hope you receive is “Put the Customer First” when using IVR systems. Technology is rarely the primary reason behind customer dissatisfaction, but it can surely exacerbate the problem.

Have a really frustrating experience with an IVR application or a great example of a good use of an IVR application? We would love to hear your comments.

Outbound IVR: How can you benefit?

Contacting customers or prospective customers regarding time sensitive information can be a very important service. Just call it “proactive customer notification”.

In the past, outbound customer notifications have been handled by direct mail, billing inserts or direct phone calls by company staff. Perhaps the biggest challenge associated with direct phone call customer notification is that in many cases company staff members are diverted from their normal job duties to perform these tasks. This is especially true if you are a small to mid-sized business.

Diversion of these internal resources typically comes with these risks:

  • Loss of productivity in their normal job duties, and
  • Sometimes less than desired hoped for results due to lack of expertise in dealing directly with customers.

In a research report published by Report Buyer in June, 2008, they predicted that the hosted, outbound IVR notification market will increase from $213 million to $524 million by 2013. See Hosted Speech and Outbound IVR Services for more details.

Integration of traditional inbound IVR applications with outbound IVR applications is an increasing trend aimed at providing customers a more comprehensive suite of services. As smart phones, PDAs and intelligent tablet usage continues to increase, IVR integration with mobile applications is on the rise also.

So what types of hosted, outbound IVR applications exist?
Here is a short example list.

  • Delivery of Merchandise notifications – think retail orders or prescriptions being available as a good example
  • Appointment reminders by the medical industry and legal industry
  • Polling. A wide range of Q&A and research initiatives already exist for both political and consumer research
  • General announcements – school closings, crime prevention, senior citizen education, public service announcements, and more
  • Financial institutions use it for account information updates, pre-set “trigger” events such as minimal account balances or unusual account activities, changes in investment interest rate announcements, and more.

A universal reminder we always like to make is to clearly understand your targeted audience and your desired results. The more complex the application or message, or the more likely human decision making skills are required, the less likely you will receive the desired benefits from using outbound IVR applications.