July 2016: Samaha Associates’ CEO Sabeh Samaha Featured in CUES: IVR Options – CU Leaders Consider How Best to Leverage Interactive Voice Response
CU leaders consider how to best leverage interactive voice response.
By Richard H. GambleIVR Options
Should efficient CUs turn off their interactive voice response systems, continue to support them or significantly upgrade them? The answer depends on who you ask.
Turn it off, suggests Tonni Larson, CCE, president/CEO of $76 million CentralAlliance Credit Union (www.centralalliancecu.org), Neenah, Wis.
“We had almost 20,000 transactions a month back in the ’90s, before we started Internet and mobile banking, but over time, transaction volume via the IVR had fallen to 800,” says the CUES member. “About 160 members were still using it. We decided to discontinue that service and started a phase-out campaign. We contacted most of the 160 users individually, and moved them over to mobile and self-service options if they were not already using them.
“We had some concern about negative reactions, but that didn’t happen,” she reports. “Members could get the same services through other channels that worked better, faster and easier.” The move is saving the CU about $800 a month.
Keep it going, advises CUES member Josh Rodriguez, president/CEO of $33 million Missouri Valley Federal Credit Union (www.movfcu.org), St. Peters, Mo. “Our IVR system went out a couple years ago and we decided not to … replace it. Bad decision. Our call rate exploded. We had to reassign one full-time person to answer these calls. We were relieved to restore an automated IVR service” last December.
Improve it, recommends Jennifer Ventimiglia, chief digital officer of $502 million Fortera Federal Credit Union (www.fcfcu.org, previously Fort Campbell FCU), Clarksville, Tenn.
“We looked at discontinuing it a few years ago at my last credit union,” reports the CUES member. “With so many channels competing for resources, it seemed like an easy way to save money.”
Even though IVR use seemed minimal, the number of call center agent contacts and call times kept increasing. Ventimiglia investigated.
“Using our new phone system’s wrap-up codes, we validated that close to 1,000 calls a month are going to live agents for things like
balance and previous transaction inquiries, tying agents up for three to four minutes per call. A high number of members were dropping
out of the IVR due to its complicated user interface.” She expects that the CU’s new system will decrease agent call volume substantially
and free up staff for more complex issues.
Like many CUs, Fortera FCU had stopped investing in IVR because it seemed like a declining channel, Ventimiglia says. But
it was declining because members got frustrated with all the steps they had to take and zeroed out to speak to a live agent.
“We are focusing on making all of our services better, simpler, and faster,” she notes. “This means smarter navigation
from the beginning of each call.” With a more user-friendly IVR, members will be able to pre-authenticate and hear
real-time account information at the beginning of their call, notes Jerry Brown, VP/ sales at Fortera FCU’s IVR vendor, Adapt
Telephony (www.teamadapt.com), Oak Brook, Ill. Replacing Missouri Valley FCU’s broken IVR system would have cost $30,000-
$40,000, Rodriguez reports. “It didn’t look like a good idea to spend that money on a shrinking service that only a small segment
of our members was using,” he explains. “But we didn’t anticipate the consequences.” The CU completed its core conversion
last December and got back its IVR in the process, without paying the big price tag. Consultants and vendors seem to agree
that IVR is not going away anytime soon. It regularly shows up on CU hit lists, but usually survives, suggests consultant
Sabeh Samaha, president/CEO of Samaha & Associates (www.ssamaha.com), Chino Hills, Calif. It may be shrinking, but some members at most CUs still want to use it. It’s not driving growth, but not having it or doing it poorly could drive members away. “Support it, but don’t go overboard,” he advises.
Industry wide, IVR volume is down a bit, due in part to the popularity of other communication channels, reports Kirk Wormington, EVP/business development at CenturionCARES (www.centurioncares.com), Oldsmar, Fla., but “we see it as a channel
that’s here to stay.” “Before you pull the plug, look carefully at who is using it,” recommends Terry Gillin, director of product management for Sentry Performance Solutions at CUES Supplier member Fiserv (www.fiserv.com), based in Brookfield, Wis. “A group of members probably likes it, and you could lose them if you drop the service.”
Has technology revolutionized IVR? Or should it? The verdict is mixed. IVR has changed in recent years, Gillin notes, primarily from being hardware-based, requiring a server and communication board, to being software based. Progressive CUs now have updated technology and virtualized applications,” he reports. And menus can now be more flexible, he adds. “With the old hard-coded
menu options, users had to follow a set track. Now CUs can offer a variety of short cuts. A user won’t necessarily see options
for products he doesn’t use.”
New IVR technology also can improve security, he points out. Besides the basic member number and PIN, an IVR system can now try to match the phone number to the member for incoming calls and ask security questions if the match isn’t there. Then there’s speech recognition. Old-line IVR users push phone buttons. Users of newer systems can speak commands. Speech recognition technology is much better than it was 10 years ago, Gillin reports, and with so many devices being Bluetooth-enabled today, he thinks an IVR system you can talk to will be popular. Many members will use voice in a private setting, touch-tone in a public one, he says.
The experience of $392 million Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union (www.jhfcu. org) in Baltimore goes against that idea. The CU’s members push buttons; they don’t speak commands. “New is not necessarily better,” says CUES member Lynn Gregory, SVP/marketing and member services. “Voice recognition is not foolproof.” CUES member Tim Vanderslik, director of information systems at $425 million
Educational Community Credit Union (www.eccu1.org), Kalamazoo, Mich., thinks that staying basic with IVR makes sense. His new virtual system is touch-tone only. “Marketing would like to add voice response to give the user a hands-free, Siri-like experience,”
he says, “but I’m not sure we need it.” When Samaha recommends not going overboard, he’s talking partly about voice
recognition. Having to listen and push a series of buttons can be frustrating, but voice recognition technology still is
plagued with problems and also frustrating, he points out.
While Wormington thinks speech recognition has improved a lot and has great potential, he thinks touch-tone remains more reliable and economical for many CUs. Don’t over-engineer your system, he advises. “You don’t need to change something that works for your members.” IVR becomes familiar and comfortable to regular users, and change can be disruptive, he notes. He speaks from experience. He recalls a call from an upset CEO of a $1.4 billion CU on his first day at CenturionCARES. “What have you done to our IVR system?” the CEO demanded. “We normally get 85,000 calls a month. Last month we were down to 40,000, and we’re swamped with complaints.” Wormington promised to investigate. He found out that the CU, at the urging of its marketing folks and against his company’s advice, had ordered a switch from touchtone to voice. So he reported this to the CEO, who said, “Go back to the old system
as quickly as possible”—which is just what happened and solved the problem.
Wormington sees progressive CUs tying IVR strategy to member experience. If members call the customer contact center at progressive CUs, he explains, they get a greeting, a wait time and ID prompts. While they are waiting, instead of Muzak or marketing blurbs, the system automaticallytells them their current balance and perhaps their last five transactions. For some callers, that’s all they need and they hang up, satisfied, he explains. “We find that half the calls are to get balances.” The IVR member experience is working
in Kalamazoo. “Our members definitely love their IVR,” Vanderslik reports. “You’d think that they’d prefer mobile, but our IVR system fields at least 14,000 calls a month from our 35,000 members.” Members who want to talk to a live person can zero out; Vanderslik estimates about 3,000 of the 14,000 incoming callers do that monthly. Only about 20 percent of the calls have transactions associated with them; the other 80 percent are members doing account balance checks and verifying deposits and check clearings. While Educational Community CU never considered dropping IVR, it did opt for an upgrade. “We had an old, server-supported system that was ridden with problems and poorly maintained by a contractor,” Vanderslik explains. “We went from physical machine to virtual machine and installed upgraded ConvergeIT software (from Fiserv) during a systems conversion. That gives us a more flexible, dynamic infrastructure.” Members noticed the change. “The menus were different,” he says. “Users were upset at first, and we heard from some of them. They had to listen and learn, but now they’ve got it and complaints have stopped.” Gregory’s CU still has a “hard-core contingent” that uses IVR quite a bit. “We see a spike on paydays—members checking to see that the deposit has been posted.”
But over time, volume has been flat, she says. Members soon will be able to select their PINs when they activate debit cards through IVR, she notes. IVR is primarily an efficiency play, but it can also be a compliance play, Gregory points out. “We keep it partly as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ for a visually impaired person so that we comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.” It’s also a disaster recovery tool, she adds. If the Internet crashes or your home banking provider goes down, it’s good to have an always-up alternative. The answer to the question of whether the IVR is a trusted workhorse that can still do new tricks or ripe for placement on the chopping block clearly depends on a CU and its membership. What will you decide?