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Did You Really Mean It? – Third Party Verification

The long distance industry has been plagued with “slamming” lately. This is the practice in which a customer is switched from one long distance carrier to another without his knowledge or consent. Many times, one gullible person in a household will succumb to a telemarketer’s blandishments without telling the others about it. Weeks later when the family gets their first bill from the new provider, no one, including the gullible person, remembers that they agreed to it. The practice has become so widespread that the federal government now requires some third party verification that the customer actually agreed to the switch.

Third party verification is expensive. After you have agreed to change your service, someone else talks to you and gets you to repeat your agreement. Two agents talking on the phone to one consumer makes for an expensive verification method.

iBasis Speech Solutions, in Reston, Virginia, (703 620 4700 has come up with an innovative solution to the problem which cuts the costs by about 70%. While the consumer is on the phone, after agreeing to the offer, the agent routes the customer to an interactive verification process which asks the customer four questions, recording the answers. These recordings become a permanent record and verification of the switch. There is no need for a second agent, nor for transcription of the data. The records can be retrieved instantly by punching the switching consumer’s local telephone number into the system.

I tried their system myself. It works. Readers can do the same. Just call 888-691-2364 and you can record your voice switching to a sample long distance carrier. You enter your name, your telephone number, your date of birth, and you answer a couple of questions. Then call 888-691-2371 and hear your own voice agreeing to the switch.

The system is sophisticated, in that it interprets the customers spoken words. If the customer says “no” in answer to a question, the system gives the caller a second chance to answer the question in a re-phrased manner. If the person then says “yes” the response to the second attempt is recorded as the final response.

This is the second innovation from iBasis which I have reported on. A while ago, I wrote an article, “On the phone! Your check is in the mail” in which I described a system developed by Accelerated Payment Systems (APS) for taking personal checks, rather than credit card numbers, over the phone. I got more calls from that one article than I did from the dozen others I wrote in the past twelve months. iBasis was one of those who called me, and subsequently entered into a partnership with Richard Florito, President of APS, in which it is possible for customers to pay their outstanding obligations, interactively by check over the phone. Here is how it works.

Their contract at the time was with Baltimore Gas and Electric. When a customer is overdue on their utility bill, they get an automated phone call letting them know that their utility service will be cut off unless they make a payment by a certain date. The call invites the customer to make an immediate payment by check. To avoid the cutoff, the customer enters the amount and the numbers from the bottom of one of his personal checks by punching his telephone keypad. The money is automatically transferred from his bank account to the utility, and the bill is paid. A paper check is drafted which he receives in his monthly statement from the bank.

Some customers like this service so well that they asked whether they might not pay all of their utility bills the same way, even when they are not delinquent. It is just a local phone call. No need to find a stamp and go to a mail box. The utility gets their money sooner. It is a win-win-win situation for everyone, including Price Interactive.

These innovations are reminders of how rapidly interactive voice response (IVR) is becoming common in the direct marketing industry. At first, companies were hesitant to outsource their telemarketing. Now everyone does it. Then they hesitated about using IVR. When they discovered that not only does it save money, but that their customers prefer it over waiting for a live operator, many companies are jumping on the band wagon. A few examples:

  • In 1997, Sprint outsourced their in-house residential customer service calls to an IVR system. Set up in 90 days, the new system increased the number of automated calls handled by 100%, generating annualized savings to Sprint of $5 million. The system answered 12 million Sprint calls in 1997.
  • Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student loan provider needed an immediate automated program to answer, capture and transcribe thousands of daily calls in response to a national TV ad campaign. The system was fully operational in six days. All records were transcribed within 24 hours of receipt.
  • Eli Lilly, a global research-based pharmaceutical corporation set up a national locator program to direct callers to the nearest mental health screening center, handling a minimum of 20,000 calls per day. The system determines the location by both ANI calling number capture and manually entered zip codes. The system has been in operation for the past two years, handling 50,000 calls per month.
  • Mobil Oil set up an automated national employment pre-screening test, enabling prospective employees to access a single, universal, toll-free number. The system lowered processing costs for Mobil by 75% when compared to Mobil’s previous live operator system.

Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, has presented 28 seminars on database and email marketing.  Arthur has also authored several books includingStrategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). He and Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, are hosting a two-day Email Strategy Study Group in Fort Lauderdale  March 26-27, 2013, featuring group competition for email marketers responsible for subscriber acquisition, lifetime value, ratings and reviews, boosting their email budget, and doubling their ROI.  To learn how to attend the Study Group,click here

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Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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