Interactive Voice Response systems (IVR systems) are nothing new. For almost three decades they have been used by companies, with varying degrees of success, to facilitate call routing and various other self-service options.  But unfortunately with delays during peak volumes an unavoidable factor, the quality of the customer experience is often negatively impacted, in direct contrast to what the system hopes to achieve.

George Roussos, Chief Operating Officer of African Bank, says the banking sector is certainly not exempt from these kind of challenges, exacerbated by the need to add another level of high security protocols for accurate caller identification and verification (ID&V). “We understand that in many cases the systems are designed to save time and actually cut down on the need to have a personal agent. At African Bank however, our purpose has never been to deflect the customer.”
“When we launched our Omnichannel two years ago, one of the prerequisites was a good IVR system and a lot of time and attention was given to understanding what African Bank customers wanted from their bank. We quickly realised we had a mix of customers, some more tech-inclined while others still preferred a more traditional one-on-one approach. Flexibility was key as even those customers who usually favour digital channels still required from time to time to talk directly to someone at the bank. We watched carefully how our system was working in practice doing everything in our power to avoid unnecessary delays.”
Roussos says the bank has always prided itself on its superior customer service so technology was used smartly to keep delays to a minimum with the use of informative prompts and music and the introduction of a 1-click call back request.  “Nevertheless we realised that even then the very first step, the customer verification step, was in fact causing some delays. “Even though the system was slick, using the calling number information and an ID entered by customer, what if the call came from a landline or another cell phone not on our records?  Now it needed an OMNI pin verification and this is where we found a hiccup as customers often would not have their actual pin at hand for authentication and needed to be placed through to a call centre agent and first pass security questions,” he says.
Roussos says the implication of that small element is actually huge when you take into account it was leading to a 1–2 minute delay on each customer call.  “If you put that into perspective waiting times for customers were extended and more time was being spent by agents doing admin rather than the valuable consulting job customers were looking for.”
We needed to find a way to use technology, applied in a fresh and simple way, which allowed the verification processes to happen in the background, while all the time keeping the user experience simple. Roussos says a decision was taken to implement a solution the bank had used in other processes. “When a customer stumbles on verification, the Entersekt solution now allows us to send a once-off USSD message on the customer’s registered mobile number. “This requires the recipient to confirm for authentication. Our IVR then receives and processes this confirmation and immediately avails the authenticated self-service menu, and on top of that, if the customer gets transferred to a consultant, the call will come already verified and display the customer landing page right away for the consultant to start assisting the caller,” explains Roussos.
He says they implemented the new technology just five months ago and already there is a time saving of about 250 hours every month. “That is 250 consultant hours that can be re-invested in serving the customer,” he says.
 The approach certainly seems to be working with the African Bank Call Centre being voted the top Call Centre in the banking sector for the last two years in the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SA-csi) report.  
“Our technology is constantly evolving based on the needs of our customers.  Our focus is clear. We are not seeking to avoid customers but rather seeking to offer them an array of convenient channels to choose from, depending on their preference and circumstance. At the end of the day it is about achieving seamless entry points for our customers and that means making digital access better and easier – not making voice more difficult,” concludes Roussos.


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