Edify Voice-Enables Bank Customer Service

New application lets banks automate customer interactions and provide access to account, branch, and other financial information through speech-enabled self-service.

Are you wondering whether a check cleared? Call your bank and you may end up talking with "Kate," a virtual persona that lives inside Edify Voice Banking, which will ask a couple of questions and get you the information. The questions are designed to verify the callers identity as well as provide the customer the information he or she is looking for.

According to Marie Jackson, Edifys vice president of marketing, a key question for banks is the balance between virtual agents and live agents when handling routine customer service queries. Jackson says that a live agent, whether located in the U.S. or outsourced, can generate a cost to the bank of $2 to $7.50 per call handled. A virtual agent can cost just 35 cents to 70 cents per call.

Edifys Voice Banking application is designed to let banks use their virtual agent in engaging ways around the clock. When it comes to customer service, banks dont want their customers to have to repeat information, or have it garbled by the system. The key to maintaining cost control over customer service calls is keeping the caller from "zeroing out," or hitting the 0 button on the telephone to get to a live agent.

Sophisticated speech applications make it possible to greatly reduce the steps a customer takes to accomplish a task, and also increase satisfaction in the process. Businesses that track self-service efficiency are aware that customers who become frustrated with the IVR (interactive voice response) and "zero-out" to transfer to a live agent generate the most expensive calls, since call time is nearly doubled, facilities are tied up, and a live agent is used.

When speech recognition is added to self-service operations, it is common for there to be a reduction in the number of "zero-outs," an increase in calls completed in self service, and a decrease in overall call handling time by the system in well-executed speech applications. Speech recognition also allows customers to make banking-related queries and transactions after the physical branch is closed.

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"In an increasingly competitive marketplace and an environment of continuously changing regulations, banks dont have the time to custom-develop a call center speech application from scratch to meet the growing demand for quality customer service," said Mitch Mandich, president and CEO of Edify, in a statement. "Banks need a flexible application that enables fast time to market, improved customer satisfaction and retention, and true, realized cost savings. Weve answered this critical need with a robust, licensed and fully-supported, packaged speech application that is quick to deploy and easy to use."

Based on industry standards such as VoiceXML and SALT, the Edify Voice Banking application includes features such as account information and history, stop pay, change PIN, funds transfer, as well as business enterprise features, such as detail reporting and monitoring for ongoing technical support and upgrades. Edify Voice Banking also handles lost or stolen credit cards, merchant check verification, banking hours, check reorder, and CDs and IRAs.

Customers calling into the system can verbally identify themselves, their account, and their requests without having to traverse a touch-tone menu. Banks can utilize the services of "Kate," the built-in virtual persona, or work with Edify to create a persona that more accurately reflects the banks image. "Kate" currently speaks English and Spanish; other languages can be developed as needed.

"Kate" is the front-end for a friendly, conversational system that provides access to the available banking information that satisfies most customer service call needs. Rather than wait on hold, customers can get basic information about their accounts. Should it be necessary to talk to a live customer service agent, "Kate" will have already gathered basic account information, making the interaction with the live agent shorter.

As additional regulations are written for the banking industry, banks are using technology to stay within the letter of the law. For instance, the provisions of the Patriot Act have added, according to Jackson, 27 to 47 seconds to a customer service call due to the additional identifying information needed.

As a bank ensures that it is fulfilling regulatory requirements, its faced with a decision: Do you add personnel, or do you add technology? Edify encourages banks to have a virtual agent as the front-end of its customer service response system.

Edifys back end can integrate with a number of disparate systems and includes scalability monitoring reporting. IBM recently tested another Edify voice application at a large telecommunications firm. Chris Nichols, senior director of product marketing for Edify, reports that the voice application exceeded IBMs expectations. Nichols adds, "When you get into a mammoth customer service situation, our system can make the difference between having to maintain 30 servers versus 200 servers with another system."

Edify Voice Banking is priced per port, currently running $750 to $1,250 per port. S1 Corporation, Edifys parent firm, has a hosted model for an interactive voice response system and can provide hosting services through the voice channel added by Edify. Jackson remarks, "However a customer wants to get into a bank, S1 wants to supply it."

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