How AVM Can Be Part Of A High-Touch Service Strategy

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Credit unions offer a unique focus on the needs of local communities, employee groups, and affinity groups. In an age of increasingly sophisticated financial services options and high levels of personalized member interaction, credit unions seek to maintain a special quality relationship with its members. Credit unions lend a personal touch to providing new products and financing options to its membership.

The CU must also attempt to reduce delinquency rates and collect past-due payments, while at the same time preserving and building on member satisfaction levels with outstanding personalized service. Maintaining and enhancing "high-touch" member relationships requires frequent, effective outreach to both communicate and solicit member feedback.

Despite the prevalence of automated voice messaging (AVM) solutions to communicate to members, some organizations still express concerns about how an AVM solution can be more effective than live collection agents or a predictive dialer. These concerns typically center around three common myths:

* AVM shouldn't be the dominant contact strategy since many members don't like automation.

* In collections, AVM only works on low balance and fresh debt.

* The predictive dialer is more efficient and cost-effective.

The purpose of this article is to dispel each of these myths, and arm credit unions with the information needed to fully leverage AVM as an integral component of their member contact strategies.

Myth No. 1

AVM Shouldn't Be the Dominant Contact Strategy

Research suggests that AVM is growing in acceptance thanks to the increased use of the technology and to Generation Y and X'ers, who are even more comfortable with automation. The fact is that a number of organizations already use AVM as their dominant contact strategy and have effectively shelved or replaced existing on-premise dialing solutions while growing their overall organizations. They've run extremely disciplined head-to-head tests to measure response rates and challenge this myth. So, what do these people know that others do not?

First, some who believe in the myth fear that members will quickly hang up on automation. However, many, if not all of the people who hang up on AVM will also do so during the awkward pause a predictive dialer creates when connecting a caller to the contact center. In addition, although manual or predictive dialing may create more live conversations, only a small fraction consists of right parties who are willing and able to take action. By the nature of the opt-in conversation via AVM, a significantly higher proportion are valuable contacts, which tends to cancel out the delta between the number of live conversations.

Second, sophisticated strategies and the use of data can influence member responsiveness. Credit unions using AVM as their dominant strategy utilize many different scripts, with different voices and options. Plus, they've analyzed data to uncover the best times and days to reach their members, while also understanding which device to contact-home phone, work phone or cell.

Finally, AVM demonstrates how many people "respond" by tracking "Direct Connect Rates." The range of connect rates can be as high as 35%, depending on the member group and application. The main point is that most credit unions are pleasantly surprised by how many members respond. Even if the connect percentage is low, predictive dialing is not doing any better, if at all, while AVM is able to eliminate all the wasted effort and wrong-party contacts.

Myth No. 2

AVM Only Works on Low-Balance or Fresh Collection Debt

Within collections, AVM is generating successes with all types and ages of debt. For instance, a leading player in the collection of federal debt, including student loans, uses AVM as a supplement to manual dialing to generate more right party contacts (RPCs) for its agents. Balances range broadly from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, and the outstanding debt is typically from one to 15 years old.

AVM has helped the agency generate approximately 3,500 more RPCs per month than would be possible with manual dialing alone. That's the equivalent of 20 collectors achieving an average of 8.5 RPCs per day. Assuming that 20 percent of the RPCs make an average payment of $600, the agency estimates that AVM helps to generate $420,000 in gross collections each month.

That's only one example of AVM success on older, high balance debt. A recent study conducted at a large, third-party agency analyzed connect rates across balances ranging from $50 to over $5,000. Interestingly, the connect rates were relatively flat, revealing that balance is not nearly as much a driver of connect rates as age.

Myth No. 3

My Dialer is More Efficient and Cost-Effective

There are many reasons why an on-premise dialer is inferior to an on-demand AVM solution. The most compelling is that predictive dialing does not maximize agent productivity. Agents spend more time talking to wrong parties than right parties. As a result, credit unions need more agents-their most significant expense item. Furthermore, dialers don't have the dialing capacity or answering machine detection accuracy of AVM, which limits their ability to maximize agent productivity. Particularly for harder to reach members, significant dialing capacity is required in order to make one right party contact. The capacity advantage also allows for increased penetration rates as needed, due to increased volume, a spike in attrition, or a desire for more contacts.

Second, there are numerous advantages of an on-demand, multi-tenant AVM solution versus an on-premise dialer. The former provides flexibility with enterprise access, rules and visibility, plus every client receives the latest upgrades, multiple times per year. Time is saved since there's no integration, maintenance, or upgrade time required from the IT department. And finally, because there is no hardware or software to buy, there are significant cost savings. On-premise dialing solutions simply cannot offer the same type of efficiency and flexibility.

Automated voice messaging is breaking down barriers and dispelling myths across the lifecycle of member contact. The key to success is finding the right mix of contact strategies for the specific operation. Old habits are hard to break, and jumping to an AVM-only strategy overnight isn't likely. But those who've stopped believing the age-old myths and opened their minds to deliberate testing and measurement of an AVM-dominated contact strategy have proven that it can and should be implemented to optimize efficiency and effectiveness within the contact center.

Matt Edmunds is VP-industry marketing and analytics with SoundBite Communications and can be reached at medmunds


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