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Pros and cons of auto-response software in the call center

Is it a good idea to deploy auto-answer/auto-response technology in the call center? How often does this technology misinterpret customer inquiries? We are concerned with whether or not the technology will alienate our customers.

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There are two categories of auto-answer and auto-response software: email-based solutions and speech-enabled applications.

Many companies use auto-acknowledgement systems to let their customers know that their email has been received, and to set expectations about when they will receive a full response. This is a very effective application. Using email auto-answer systems to provide full responses is a different issue. While it serves the purpose of responding to customers on a timely basis, these systems do not always address all of the issues in the customer's email and are known for missing the point if their accuracy threshold is set too low. However, if it's set too high, the percentage of transactions that are fully automated will be lower than most organizations want. These applications are continuing to improve and are being used by a growing number of companies. Vendors that provide these solutions include Kana and eGain.

Phone-based auto-response systems, when used properly and for the right application, can be very effective. Using an auto-response system as a call router, for example, can deliver significant benefits to organizations and be very satisfying for customers, as the accuracy rates are often very high. Speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) systems can also be very effective when they are used for the appropriate applications and are scripted properly.

No matter how good the technology, quite a few people still do not like this type of automation. We recommend that if you adopt auto-response technology, allow customers to choose whether or not to use it and make it easy for customers to reach live call center agents from any point in the application.

This was first published in September 2008

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