Contact Center Solutions Case Study
Easy, Caller-Friendly Product Support Helps Build the Panasonic Brand (Cont'd)
AT&T VoiceTone created the opportunity to build better relationships with more of our customers, and to give the Panasonic brand a consistent face in the marketplace. We now have a more powerful way to show customers we are here to help.”
Lorraine Robbins, Strategic Planning Manager, Panasonic
Dramatically improve the delivery of customer support for a wide range of consumer products
Network-based natural language application for stream-lined call routing
More consistent brand image and higher customer satisfaction through more efficient product support
Consumer Electronics, appliances and B2B Solutions
More than 12,000 employees in North America
Panasonic Corporation of North America is the principal North American subsidiary of the Panasonic Corporation, the world’s largest consumer electronics manufacturer. The Panasonic brand appears on an impressive range of products, from cutting-edge large-screen Viera® flat panel TVs, including Internet connected and 3D Sets, High Definition camcorders, Toughbook® ruggedized laptop PC’s and digital cameras to blood pressure monitors, cordless telephones and power tools.
In the U.S., Panasonic supports consumer products through a centralized
customer service operation. Customers can obtain one-on-one assistance via a
toll-free number with anything from connecting a Blue-ray Disc Player to
installing a microwave oven or locating a retailer for a large-screen HDTV –
all provided by more than 200 different support team members.
As Panasonic’s product lines have expanded to higher ticket, premium priced items, customers’ service expectations have risen as well. At the same time, managing the incoming support calls became more problematic. Panasonic had been relying on touch-tone voice menus to allow callers to indicate which product they were calling about, and their specific need. The menus eventually grew so complex that customers averaged more than two minutes listening and responding to prompts before being connected. This caused many callers to abandon the call in frustration, while about half opted out to live operators for assistance. What’s more, the dynamic nature of Panasonic’s business involved frequent changes in products and organization, which all affected its call routing arrangements.
To protect its brand reputation, Panasonic needed a faster and more efficient way to connect customers to the appropriate specialists and enhance the level of service provided.
With teams from AT&T Labs, Panasonic deployed an AT&T VoiceTone® natural language speech application that dramatically simplifies the upfront process and allows Panasonic to provide one consistent face to its customers. Callers are now greeted with the question “How may I help you?” and are invited to simply describe their needs, in their own words. The natural language technology interprets their spoken responses and routes their calls accordingly. With this application, Panasonic now connects customers to specialists in an average of 46 seconds, shaving off more than 100 seconds from the previous process. The faster service immediately improved Panasonic’s customer satisfaction ratings, saving on communications costs as well. Further, the platform is managed and hosted by AT&T in specially-designed facilities, providing Panasonic with a highly scalable solution. This eliminates the need to operate on-premises equipment at its multiple call center facilities and grows as its call volumes increase.
Service as the Marketing Edge
As a company, Panasonic recognized that focusing on supporting customers was a critical success factor in both consumer and business products. In its view, customers would be more disposed to select a brand that promised attentive service and support – even at a higher price point – especially where differentiating products solely on technology and features was difficult.
Our overall contact costs immediately went down and we have been much more efficient, while providing a larger support opportunity for our customer base."
Lorraine Robbins, Strategic Planning Manager, Panasonic
“Our customer support operations quickly became pivotal to Panasonic’s brand strategy,” said Lorraine Robbins, Strategic Planning Manager. “We wanted customers to be absolutely confident in choosing Panasonic, knowing they will be well supported before and after their purchase. It was our goal to lead the market in the way we support our customers and go above and beyond their expectations.”
Designing a Better Customer Experience
The Panasonic application – the most complex ever implemented by AT&T at the time – recognizes more than 50 types of customer requests, and can route calls to some 200 different agent groups across seven locations in the U.S. and internationally. To the callers, however, the experience is refreshingly simple.
“When the application asks ‘How can I help you?’ customers can simply say ‘I have a question about connecting my DVD,’ and the application parses their response appropriately,” said Robbins. She and her team worked with AT&T Labs to devise grammars that could understand the wide variety of possible caller responses. They also incorporated follow-up dialogues to gather additional information or clarify a response when necessary – to determine, for example, whether the caller is inquiring about a DVD player or DVD recorder. The experience is more proactive for the customer, and is less tedious than stepping through multiple layers of voice menus.
“Our data demonstrates that many customers only interact with the AT&T VoiceTone application for less than 45 seconds before being routed to a specialist,” said Robbins. Further, the routing logic has proved to be very accurate. To test the system, Panasonic executives called in repeatedly for a period of months, challenging the application with a full spectrum of difficult requests, as customers might pose, and found the technology performed admirably.
Robbins also notes that customers’ questions are answered in less time than previously. “Where our wait times once averaged five to eight minutes, we now often average 29 or 30 seconds. That is due principally to the fact that callers are speaking to the most qualified specialist each time.” Rather than opting out to a group of blended agents, callers are routed to a representative who is trained and skilled in their area of interest. “This allows us to increase our first call resolution and results in much higher customer satisfaction,” she added.
Discovering 2.5 Million New Callers
The Panasonic team suspected that its previous system had caused many callers to drop out of the process – either in the voice menus, or after being routed to an inappropriate team. As a result, Panasonic expected to see an increase in volume with the implementation of the AT&T VoiceTone application. However, the magnitude of the increase was unexpected.
“We anticipated increasing our volume annually by approximately a half-million calls,” said Robbins. “After implementation we enhanced our ability to support an additional 2.5 million customers per year. That is a substantial opportunity to build relationships with customers we had not interacted with previously.”
VoiceTone also offers the convenience of 24x7 self-service and can provide information including order and ship status. Approximately half of all callers take advantage of this capability.
The Power of a Hosted Solution
In evaluating the solution, Panasonic estimated that the initial investment could be recovered in a reasonable amount of time, based on the anticipated savings in communications and agent time. “Our overall contact costs immediately went down and we have been much more efficient, while providing a larger support opportunity for our customer base,” said Robbins.
Panasonic had originally investigated the possibility of building speech capabilities into on-site ACD equipment at its contact centers. That would have entailed purchasing and managing complex applications in-house and periodically upgrading infrastructure at multiple sites which were not attractive options for Panasonic. Further, Robbins and her team were concerned about attaining mission-critical reliability and redundancy in on-premises equipment; as the ‘front end’ to their entire customer support effort, the application demanded the utmost in availability.
“AT&T not only offered a more advanced natural language capability,” said Robbins, “but the fully hosted solution eliminated all concerns we had with managing hardware internally.” The AT&T VoiceTone capabilities driving Panasonic’s application actually reside in specialized AT&T hosting facilities. Dedicated technicians continually manage and monitor Panasonic’s toll-free connectivity, the application itself and the high-performance hardware involved. AT&T also provides two redundant sites to protect against disasters. Exact duplicates of the application are maintained so that calls can be switched to the backup location in a moment’s notice.
“The AT&T monitoring team is so capable, they have often detected problems in our internal systems at Panasonic, even before we knew there was an issue,” said Robbins.
AT&T also monitors all call volume and traffic, to ensure there is enough port capacity on the platform. As call volumes increase, Panasonic does not have to invest in additional on-premises equipment; AT&T will engineer the necessary capacity into the platform. “We would not have been able to handle the call volumes if we had to manage it ourselves,” said Robbins. “With the hosted environment, we don’t need to worry about growth.”
Customers React Positively to the Change
The reaction from Panasonic customers has been uniformly enthusiastic and positive. In Panasonic’s own surveys which are conducted via VoiceTone, callers praise the simplicity of the natural language solution, reporting that it is now easier to access the expert help they require.
“Our ratings in independent, third-party surveys are consistently improving as well,” noted Robbins. “We noticed the difference a few months after implementing the AT&T VoiceTone application. Our customers are far more satisfied with the support they receive from Panasonic and are apparently a lot more likely to buy from us again. We have actually heard of executives in other companies pointing to our application and instructing their teams, ‘That is how our application should work’.”
The effectiveness of the application allows Panasonic to incorporate new capabilities into the process to further elevate support. VoiceTone can offer a different service experience depending on the customer type. The company implemented ‘Concierge-class’ support services for owners of Panasonic’s industry-leading Viera® TVs. It offers pre-recorded self-help for some of the more frequent questions and integrates post-call customer surveys in the application to help in fine tuning the processes.
In addition, Robbins and her team are now capturing more information from customers to provide better support and build closer relationships, as well as sharing valuable call data with other parts of the business. Panasonic is also conducting data testing for Chi Scans, a call flow diagnostic technology developed by AT&T Labs, which will provide even more intelligence and help to further enhance the system.
The Bottom Line
“AT&T VoiceTone created the opportunity to build better relationships with more of our customers, and to give the Panasonic brand a consistent face in the marketplace,” said Robbins. “We now have a more powerful way to show customers we are here to help.
“Our account team has been there every step of the way. If you need anything, they are there. The AT&T Labs developers never say ‘No I can’t do it.’ They always find a way. I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”