Talking Points

Cable Operators across the country are beginning to find that the path to customer service success doesn’t always lie in what you say, but how you say it.

Speech analytics — the science of finding the hidden meanings, wants and aspirations in customer responses — is beginning to take hold in the industry. It offers insights into how service reps, technicians and other front-line personnel can better improve the overall customer experience.

“Think of the millions of calls cable companies get every day,” Graham Tutton, Comcast vice president of customer insights and co-chair of the Cable Center’s C5/Customer Care Committee, said.

“Speech analytics listens for words, tone and tenor that help you identify sentiment and can identify within the call where the inflection points of things start going wrong or well for that matter.” Speech analytics has been around for years, and the cable industry started looking into it several years ago, mainly with larger operators. Today, The Cable Center CEO Jana Henthorn said, it is becoming more commonplace.

Becoming Ubiquitous In Cable

“Three years ago, [speech analytics] was a huge topic at C5,” Henthorn said. “We spent multiple meetings really helping the group understand that. Some folks were using it more than others, but I would say that’s ubiquitous now.

“Even the small guys use speech analytics,” she added. “It’s a very important part of how we’re getting the voice of the customer.”

Cable Center senior fellow and James M. Cox Endowed Professorship in Customer Experience Dr. Charles Patti, who leads up the C5 initiative, said that speech analytics is part of a bigger industry trend.

“This is part of a bigger movement about understanding the emotional aspect of the customer,” Patti said. “I would fully expect as we go forward in 2019 and in the future, while Net Promoter Score is going to remain a key measure, we’re also going to see increased use of measures of trust and forgiveness and emotion. These are now measurement tools, scales that are quickly developing and beginning to find their way into helping companies understand this emotional component of the transactions as well as the general reputation of the brand.”

Tutton added that the industry may have paid lip service to the emotional aspect of the cable company-customer relationship in the past, but it is taking that aspect much more seriously today.

“I look at the industry and it is becoming much more emotional, not only about employees and customers, but about how they reflect that in their brand, as well as what takes place in the front line,” Tutton said. “People are coming to terms and getting comfortable with emotion. For the stodgy cable companies of the world, that is kind of an interesting dynamic and that is how the industry is evolving.”

Cox Communications uses speech analytics to identify ways to increase first-call resolution, strategies to reduce call transfers and overall process improvement, executive director of media relations Todd Smith said. The technology also helps Cox understand customer reactions to new product functionality and features, like the Contour voice remote or the addition of Netflix to the platform.

It also can help pick up other signals. “Currently, we are listening for mentions of the government shutdown, so we can assess the impact on our customer base and whether our existing strategy for communicating payment options during this period is sufficient,” Smith said.

Another way that cable operators are using speech analytics is in determining the next-best action in their interactions with customers. By coupling customer sentiment and attitude — gleaned from speech analytics software — with data such as how often they have called, how their products are working and how many truck rolls have been made to their residence, Tutton said, a service rep can know to change the sequence of events in real time during the call or shortly thereafter.

“The ‘let me get back to you on that, Mr. Customer’ is gone,’ ” Comcast’s Tutton said. “It’s more of, ‘We see what the issue is, we see you’re in an outage, we understand you called and you’re not happy.’ It’s a different talk track.”

There are several companies that provide customer care software and tools that utilize speech analytics. One of them, Call Miner, which was formed in 2002, has been working closely with The Cable Center over the past few years.

In an interview, Call Miner vice president of marketing Scott Kendrick said speech analytics has several functions, including providing a measurement tool for companies to track and improve the performance of their customer service agents.

“You can look for things like certain phrases at a certain part of the call or a phrase or a topic of conversation before or after another topic of conversation,” Kendrick said. “It can get very sophisticated in how you look for those behaviors. For example, we can look for things like making sure the agent is expressing empathy when the customer is expressing some form of dissatisfaction.”

In those situations, the software can provide a kind of scorecard for the agent, identifying areas where they need to improve.

Most of the time, call-center agents are evaluated on less than 1% of the calls they handle.

“What we do is we take 100% of that agent’s work and package it in such a way that the supervisor can now, with a ton of intelligence, coach the agent on, ‘Well, here’s how you could have been more customer friendly; here’s where you could have made an offer; here’s where you could have asked a question that would have helped you better understand what the problem was and resolved the call the first time around,’ ” Call Miner senior solutions architect Ryan Carrigan said.

Useful in Predicting Behavior

It also can serve as a tool to predict what a customer may do next, Tutton said, based on what they say and which queue they call into — billing, repair or other.

“Based on what they say and other account characteristics, you can identify with strong confidence those that are most likely to churn in the next, 30, 60 or 90 days,” Tutton said, adding that it allows the operator to make a proactive effort through a phone call, an email or some other source to rectify the matter. 

Customer retention, while important, isn’t the only benefit. Speech analytics also has practical uses in getting information out to specific segments of the customer base.

“Practically, in terms of effectiveness, you probably don’t want to go individually, but you get to a much finer segment of customer that you can update messages, outage notifications and the like,” Tutton said. “The thing with outage notifications, it’s a double-edged sword. Not everyone is going to be affected by the same outage in the same way, so you don’t want to just carpet bomb them with ‘Hey we’re in an outage.’ It doesn’t do well for your brand. But if I can say ‘Hey, we’ve seen it on the corner of Main St. and First Ave, and there’s 10 businesses, we can send messages to their email and do a proactive call. That’s big for the B2B space.”

These speech analytics tools have the potential to change the game for cable operators, Tutton added.

“For the longest time it was, ‘What are they [customers] saying? Are they mad or not?’ ” Tutton said. “Now the technology has evolved and you can marry it with operational, financial, technical and customer data and get ahead of the action that the customer takes and be proactive about it.

“You can also harvest that information to understand by segment or geography what’s going well from a product perspective,” Tutton continued. “You can get proactive on network outage notifications. A case in point: Out in California with all the fires, obviously we can see that things were going on. You implement proactive communications to cellphones, to online users about activities that are taking place, so that there is a little bit of customer, product and technology help that comes out of it.”