One of the funniest episodes of Seinfeld was “The Pool Guy,” where Kramer’s phone number is very similar to Moviefone’s, the movie listing service, and he gets many calls from people wanting show times. In the end, Kramer decides to just play along and he makes himself sound like an automated messaging system. For those with a sadistic sense of humor, the laughs come from the irritation he causes the callers.
I hate automated calling systems, which is why I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was actually introduced to a place where Interactive Voice Activation (IVR) — the fancy name for automated messaging systems — makes sense in logistics.
At last year’s Descartes User Conference, one of its carrier customers spoke about how they used an IVR solution to improve performance. This carrier specializes in final mile delivery, such as delivering large appliances for retail customers.
In last mile logistics, “not at homes” is a big problem because deliveries can’t be made. This carrier, at best, is only able to charge the retailer half of its usual delivery fee. In the meantime, a driver’s time has been wasted, while fuel and equipment depreciation costs have been incurred.
The IVR solution is also useful in situations where a large storm will make it impossible to make deliveries. In this case, the trucking firm might be faced with calling as many as 1,000 customers to cancel appointments. Using people to do this would be very costly.
The automated calling system is used to confirm that a person will be home during the scheduled delivery time; the IVR is integrated with Descartes’ On-Demand routing solution to get the delivery window data into the system. The IVR is also used to make sure the delivery address is correct. The IVR script also asks whether special delivery instructions are needed. In some cases, an address is only a proximate location and further instructions are needed, for example, so that the delivery person can find the particular apartment or condominium. If the customer needs to provide special instructions, or another exception arises, the system defaults to a human customer service representative.
These calls are often made the night before the delivery. The calls could be made very quickly, but Descartes’ customer paces the rate at which the calls are made so that when exceptions are found, they have time to reroute deliveries.
The system can also be used to improve customer service. The system, for example, can ask a customer whether they received a delivery confirmation at the time the sale was made. The carrier also uses the IVR to call back 30 minutes after the delivery is made to make sure the delivery team comported themselves professionally.
If I was getting a delivery, would I prefer to talk to a human? Usually, but not always. Not all human customer service representatives are easy to understand, or even particularly polite. However, when the presenter at the conference played actual recordings of SmartAction, the IVR system that they were using, it sounded pretty good. It was conversational, responded to “yes” and “no” verbal responses and the decision tree logic seemed to make sense.
Descartes’ customer achieved some great results from using this system. They gradually improved delivery confirmations from about 50 percent of deliveries with human CSRs to over 85 percent using the automated system. They did not mention what the ROI associated with this improvement was, but “not home” deliveries are very expensive. Further, now that delivery teams know that their performance is being monitored more closely, customer satisfaction scores have increased.
(Note: Descartes is a Logistics Viewpoints sponsor)