ABOUT THE VENDOR
Edify Corporation provides end-to-end CRM solutions throughout the enterprise for more than 2,000 companies worldwide. Its vCSR technology enables the deployment of real time applications that automate transactions and services throughout the enterprise. Edify solutions enrich customer satisfaction and improve retention, while reducing costs and increasing revenue. Applications built with Edify are scalable, multilingual, and flexible, allowing companies to easily integrate multiple backend systems with multiple contact interfaces including Web, voice, wireless, email and contact center. Edify is a wholly owned subsidiary of S1 Corporation, a global provider of Enterprise eFinance solutions.
ABOUT THE CUSTOMER
Alaska Communications System (ACS) is the primary provider of local exchange, ISP, and wireless services to a large portion of Alaska. Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc., headquartered in Anchorage, is Alaska's first full-service, statewide telecommunications company. ACS is a diversified, full-service provider, with more than 400,000 businesses, government, and residential subscribers for its long distance and facilities-based local telephone, wireless, data, network, and Internet services throughout the state.
ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY
Edify's Electronic Workforce fully integrates vCSR self-and assisted-service applications such as Edify's Enterprise Interaction
Edify Voice vCSR is an application built on Edify's Electronic Workforce platform, a patented technology that develops one-to-one solutions for maximizing customer interaction. Electronic Workforce handles input and output from all channels -- voice, web, email and wireless -- and works with existing desktop and legacy systems.
In order to maintain its competitive advantage and to enhance its existing customer service programs, ACS is using Edify Voice and its vCSR technology to power a wide range of customer service improvements. Components of the system include 24-hour-a-day access to automated services such as account balance and payment information; service feature additions and changes; order scheduling for installations, repairs, and disconnects; directory assistance; special promotions and campaigns; and customer satisfaction surveys. They anticipate at least 10 to 15 percent of all customer calls to be managed by Edify Voice. SearchCRM spoke about the project with Michael Jones, ACS's senior manager of business solutions -- finance and operations application.
SearchCRM: Why did you decide to evaluate CRM solutions?
Jones: We wanted to develop a back-end functionality to enable our callers who are just interested in balance inquiry, last payment information, and information along those lines to get it automatically. We did some studies and analysis with our CSRs and realized that 20 percent of their calls are that kind of call. We convinced the execs to do a capital project because a large percentage of most companies' budgets is labor.
SearchCRM: Why did you choose Edify?
Jones: We looked at four vendors and pretty quickly got it down to two. When we compared those, Edify pretty much came out ahead. It was price and performance -- what kinds of capabilities the system had versus the cost for the system. We were looking for flexibility, ease of programming, ease to update things. We had a couple of our technical folks look at the development environment, and it's extremely easy to develop in.
SearchCRM: What was the most challenging aspect of the implementation?
Jones: I think in retrospect it was interfacing with the telephony boards. Those boards are fairly sophisticated and they can be touchy. That's something that's beyond the control of the software vendors.
SearchCRM: How does the system work for your company?
Jones: We changed the project slightly and added auto-attendant functionality to it. Basically, all the calls that come into ACS go through our IVR system. It does an auto-attendant function with a lot of menus. If you select back-end functions, it does that also -- looks into our billing system to see what your balance is, last payment, and date. We have a repair system also -- we allow you to call in and look into the status of your repair ticket.
SearchCRM: What's the benefit of the system to the customer?
Jones: The benefit is speed. If you just want to do one thing like check your account balance, it's easier and quicker than talking to a CSR. Also, we keep the menus the same, so once you know what you want you can interrupt it. You don't have to listen to the whole thing. As long as you know what the choices are in the menu, it takes you maybe 20 or 30 seconds to get your account balance.
SearchCRM: Have you met ROI?
Jones: We determined that we had to have four and a half percent of folks use this in order to break even in a year. We are running at right around six percent, and we haven't advertised it at all.
SearchCRM: What's been the most rewarding result so far?
Jones: The ability for us to tell folks that they can check their balances and payments automatically. The other thing is, especially for our bigger customers, being able to check the status of their repair tickets. A lot of customers are really interested in that.
SearchCRM: What are your plans for the future?
Jones: Edify has a Web interface, so if we want to use it to create some Web functionality to parallel our IVR, we can utilize the same back-end functions. Instead of having to recreate the wheel, they have a Web front end that will go back and call the Edify server. We plan on implementing this next year.
Another of our capital projects that we're trying to do next year is to incorporate voice recognition software into the auto-attendant menu. So instead of saying "Press 1," the system will say, "Press or say 1."
SearchCRM: Do you have any advice for companies starting a similar project?
Jones: I would really do some analysis on your calls, especially if you have a call center. Do it for at least a week or two to get an idea of ups and downs in call volumes. Our call volumes were actually higher than we thought they were.
Linda Formichelli's writing appeared this year in Woman's Day, Wired, Writer's Digest, Family Circle, Psychology Today. Contact her at email@example.com, or check out her Web site http://www.twowriters.net
This was first published in December 2001