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Thursday, 10 March 2011 20:43

Woolworths voices contact centre plans


Retail giant Woolworths is mid-way through a massive overhaul of its contact centres - consolidating from eight to two, has introduced interactive voice response (IVR) systems in three key areas, and now has biometric voice identification on its radar.

Speaking at the Voice Leadership Forum in Sydney today, Peter Heywood, the general manager of contact centre implementation for Woolworths, said that an IVR store locator system now live in the company's Dan Murphy liquor stores had dealt with 30,000 calls since it was introduced just before Christmas. He said that typically 10 per cent of customer calls to the company were about locating stores and determining opening hours and that this could rise to 70 or 80 per cent of calls in the Christmas holiday periods.

Having an IVR system deal with such inquiries frees up contact centre staff for more challenging inquiries and can boost overall efficiency.

Woolworths' store locator IVR system can also link to an SMS application which sends the store details to the caller's mobile phone. 'And when the SMS gets sent we can also attach a promotion,' said Mr Heywood, which helped turned an inquiry into a sale.

The system is now being piloted in Woolworths' Dick Smith operations and will also be rolled out in supermarkets and Big W before Easter he said.

Stephen Lewis, general manager of business consulting for Salmat, which has worked closely with the retail giant on its contact centre strategy and is the outsourcer for Woolworths' new consolidated customer contact centre in Parramatta, NSW, said that besides rolling out more IVR applications in the contact centres, Woolworths had 'voice biometrics on the radar' and was particularly interested in how the technology could be used to authenticate customers of its Everyday Money card.

A survey released late last year by Unisys found a growing acceptance of voice biometrics, with 69 per cent of Australians saying they felt comfortable about providing voice biometric data in order to securely access bank accounts.

Meanwhile Woolworths continues to bed down the consolidation of what had been eight separate contact centres into two - one for internal callers, and one external call centre. The external contact centre for customers is currently outsourced to Salmat.

A request for proposal is currently pending for the operation of the internal contact centre.

Besides consolidating the contact centres, Mr Heywood is rationalising the contact numbers for the group. Until recently Woolworths operated 90 separate 1300 numbers for internal and external callers. 'We found many of them had not been used for years,' he said.

'Our future access strategy is to have one number per brand', he said and then use IVR to route the call to the most appropriate service.

Woolworths isn't alone in its enthusiasm for IVR and voice biometrics.

Delegates at the conference also heard from Charles Ronaldson, a group manager for Inland Revenue New Zealand which is also rolling out biometric voice authentication services on the back of a 14 month old voice recognition deployment. In Australia Centrelink has already trialled voice biometrics and the Newcastle Permanent Building Society indicated at the conference that it is also planning to trial voice biometrics.

Of the four major banks, National Australia Bank is furthest along in terms of biometric authentication, and has so far enrolled 130,000 customers for its voice biometric programme which was first launched in 2009. Its ambition however is to grow that to 2 million enrolled users and is also considering a range of future applications including mood monitoring, which would use voice recognition to spot an angry caller, and then bump them up the call centre queue.

Westpac is understood to be also evaluating the technology. Sam Jackel, Westpac's project director for the contact centre transformation project, who moved across from NAB last year, acknowledged that 'A technology such as voice biometrics lends itself well,' to contact centre application.

Jennifer Rufati, head of customer operations for Westpac said that the bank was constantly looking at different technologies, but had not made a commitment at this stage.

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