Executive Q&A: Acer Prioritizes Listening to Customers

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Michael Sutton, Acer's director of technology and customer intelligence, discusses how by using natural speech recognition, the computer company is gathering additional voice of the customer insights that are helping in its business decisions.

The time when organizations guessed what their customers thought about their products and services is long over. Savvy organizations are relying on sophisticated analysis, technologies, and strategies to understand what their customers and prospects are saying about their brands.

Forward-thinking business leaders are finding innovative ways to gather voice of the customer insights, making sure that they don't only base their decisions on formal surveys. Computer company Acer gathers essential insights from social media and is leveraging natural language recognition to collect more customer insights and improve customer service.

In this interview with 1to1 Media, Michael Sutton, Acer's director for technology and customer intelligence, explains how the organization is listening to its customers in several ways, and then using these insights to improve both its products and the customer experience.

1to1 Media: There's a lot of competition in the technology industry. How does Acer America differentiate itself from its competitors around the world?

Michael Sutton: It all starts with the product, so we try to build great products that our customers want, that are easy to use, and have a great design. From there we try to engage with our customers throughout their lifecycle experience. If they have a service need, we want to be there for one-on-one human contacts. We recognize that customers' preferred channels are changing and we want to be there where customers want us, so we're evolving in that direction as well, especially when it comes to social media. We're engaging with customers on Twitter and Facebook since social media spaces are becoming customers' favorite channels.

1to1: How does Acer America use natural language speech recognition to become more customer centric?

MS: Natural language processing and natural language technology is becoming more important in our business in order for us to become more customer centric. We're using it in our IVR systems to support service and in our analytics systems to monitor social media and feedback coming from our customers. It's critical to us to better understand what our customers are saying to us by using the technology to interpret [their feedback] and bring about the necessary changes for the benefit of our customers.

1to1: Can you give an example of customer insights that you managed to achieve through natural language speech recognition which would otherwise have been lost, and the actions you've taken based on that knowledge?

MS: This has happened across the board from the service perspective. For example, Laptop Magazine does an annual technical support showdown and it's been reviewing Acer for a number of years. In 2010 we had an unfavorable score. Through the use of natural language processing we're able to analyze what our customers are saying about us to improve not only the experience in our IVR, but also the experience that our agents deliver to customers and the products themselves. Our Laptop Magazine showdown review went up from a D-minus in 2010 to a B-minus in 2012. This is a third-party validation of the work we've been doing following insights.

One example of changes specifically triggered through customer feedback is our IVR. We used to provide in-system troubleshooting for our customers [before connecting them to an agent] and the feedback and data suggested that this wasn't working as effectively as we had hoped. So we eliminated that to create a better user experience in the IVR system that made it faster and smoother and we've been able to improve customer satisfaction.

1to1: When you moved to the Nuance OnDemand hosted solution in 2011 the application was able to identify the caller's intent, capture product serial numbers, and capture the caller's automatic number identification (ANI) to identify them and effectively manage repeat calls. How is this helping you improve the customer experience and is it leading to less need for customers to repeat themselves or call more than once?

MS: Our data suggests that's the case. Those improvements have streamlined the process. The more quickly that we can understand a caller's intent, via either a serial number or other identifier from the customer, we can make the determination of how that customer can be handled and we can get that customer to the resource more quickly. Doing it right the first time with the new system allows us to reduce repetition and be more efficient in how we serve our customers.

1to1: How has natural language processing impacted your agent productivity?

MS: We've seen an improvement in productivity. For example, when it comes to computer telephony integration (CTI), it allows agents to get customer information before [they answer] the call, get the customer data in front of them, so that they can be prepared to hit the ground running with that customer if we've spoken to him before. If the customer isn't known, it allows us to get through the process of getting customers registered and giving them the service that they need more quickly.

1to1: This system has helped you achieve a 15 percent decrease in repeat callers and a 50 second decrease in average call duration. What's the main reason behind these successes and did they also translate to savings for the company?

MS: The reasons for the successes are that the activities are happening in the system rather than on the phone with the agent. We're able to capture the caller information upfront, eliminating the agents' need to take information during the call. When it comes to reducing repeat callers, capturing the caller intent right the first time allows the agent to better service the customer and the customer won't have to make subsequent calls. Eliminating the troubleshooting piece has had an impact on repeat calls because customers were going through the process, potentially not getting the best answer for their issue and having to call back again.

Anytime that we can reduce handle time and repeat calls will generally translate into savings for the company. All of those improvements translate to savings for us.

1to1: You sell your products through a number of partners, for example Best Buy. How do you make sure that sales associates in those brick-and-mortar locations are equipped with the knowledge to help customers and answer all their questions?

MS: There's a lot of education that's happening through our marketing channel and retail distribution channels to get these folks up to speed in terms of what's important from an Acer product to be communicated out to the customers.

1to1: Have you considered using QR codes or other technologies to allow customers in retail outlets to get more information about particular items they're interested in?

MS: We recently launched some products that contain QR codes on the machines, allowing customers to scan and get additional information about the products. The use of QR codes is becoming more popular within Acer as with other companies as a means to giving customers information more quickly and efficiently.