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Beyond Containment – Enhancing the Customer Experience through Improved Self-Service

Alec Tilly, SVP Innovation

In the Financial Services world, times are changing quickly. The transition from call centers, to contact centers, to omni-channel communications has been a transformative process thanks to ever evolving technologies. For any firm that has not been on this adaptive journey, they are certainly falling behind. The financial benefits of these investments have very high ROIs from a cost-savings perspective.

Plus, customers in many cases prefer digital channels whether text, email, chat, or other self-service. Most financial services companies have embraced these investments to IVRs, but fundamentally, I would challenge us to explore the reasons customers are trying to engage with us and ways we can make their experience better upstream.

In a recent discussion with another top executive of a financial services company, I learned that they had achieved a containment rate exceeding 85% with their conversational IVR. Fantastic! Are we done? Maybe so, maybe not. It seems in our culture we have become fantastic at fixing problems, but not always as great at preventing them. A friend of mine recently said that America is the best at developing treatments, vaccines, and cures … but not so great at living a healthy lifestyle or preventative healthcare. Perhaps not a perfect analogy, but our Financial Services world has done a great job implementing IVRs to handle calls, but can we do more to enable customers to prevent the call in the first place by providing better self-service tools? I believe this warrants a brief discussion around self-service and opportunities that may be masked by excellent IVR KPIs.

Use Cases

As many of us have built and expanded our conversational IVRs over the past decade, we continue to innovate solutions for various customer use cases. When a consumer would like to make a payment? How do they log in to the website? Can they find their account balance? To more sophisticated, can they have late fee waived? Can they qualify for a loan? And many more. Finding ways to help customers solve these issues with an effective conversational IVR is an important and valuable endeavor. Success is often managed in terms of “containment” – defined as the percentage of the callers are fully serviced in the IVR without the need to escalate to a human agent. Obviously, this has a great ROI for entities that can deflect calls and handle with technology given the increasing expense of armies of humans in call centers. But what’s missing?

We need to ask ourselves, what can we be doing better with our self-service tools to prevent the call in the first place. How can we improve our web portal and mobile app customer experience so that customers never call in the first place?

We can make determinations about the customer journey by evaluating a few key questions.

First step – Do customers have easy access to the account URL?

Are we doing all we can to market the self-service options in current customer interactions? Do all written communications include a QR code? Am I offering the URL (ideally via text) in the IVR and hold queues?

Second Step – Can we streamline (or eliminate) the login process?

Is the login process to onerous? Does login require information customers do not often have such as the account number? Can we make it more frictionless while still meeting compliance requirements? How can we leverage additional channels to make this secure and easy such as text and chat? Is there only one option or multiple? For loan customers with stored payment information, can we enable one-click payments from email or text without a login at all?

Third step – Why are people calling?

Do they prefer to call, or is something more difficult than it should be in the portal or web app process? This step is a little more subjective, however it is very important to explore the customer experience of our self-service tools. The benefits of IVR technology is the assimilation of clear data on customer use cases. My assertion is that we should not settle for successful handling of that use case by the IVR. Is the use case handled by the website? If the IVR can handle the use case, then a consumer should be able to handle it through self-service on the website. Are there unnecessary speed bumps on the web experience to handle the use case? Is it difficult to find?

Another Key Ingredient – Human Critical Thinking at all Levels of the Organization

If you consider the industrial automation transformation of manufacturing from the 1980s to now, how did the workforce change? For example, manufacturing companies invested in more mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineers and other technical roles. The overall workforce in operations, while smaller, evolved to become more skilled to manage and operate increasingly technical equipment and processes. In financial services, our version is investment in data engineers and developers, data scientists and analysts, and the “up-skilling” of contact center agents. As self-service capabilities handle most of the straightforward customer needs, more complex interactions requiring more critical thinking, problem solving, and customer empathy are left for the call center humans. At Goal Solutions, the investments being made are focused in building great teams in all these areas combined with a great culture. Our business case for new technology includes consideration of the people resource investments needed to manage new initiatives. The point being, investments in technology are the catalyst for evolutionary innovations but are not enough to be successful; an entrepreneurial culture that includes cross-functional collaboration of smart, talented people is foundational for success.


In conclusion, while the success of conversational IVRs in financial services has been impressive in terms of cost savings and customer satisfaction, it is important to shift our focus towards preventing the need for customers to call in the first place by improving our self-service tools. We can do this by ensuring easy access to the account web portal URL, streamlining the login process, and exploring the customer journey of our self-service tools. By doing so, we can improve the overall customer experience, reduce call volume, and increase the ROI of our investments in technology. In addition to technology investments, investments in people are required for success. Companies can handle more routine interactions through self-service tools and IVRs, leaving more complex interactions for human agents and improving the overall customer experience. It’s time to move beyond containment fixation and start providing better self-service for our customers.

As Senior Vice President of Innovation, Alec drives new initiatives that leverage technology to streamline operations and improve our client and borrower experiences. Prior to joining Goal Solutions, Alec has extensive financial services experience working for both debt owners and servicers. From a functional perspective, Alec held roles managing large call center operations, managing vendors and servicers, product and project management, analysis and forecasting, and strategic planning. His background also includes experience consulting for multiple firms in financial services, insurance, entertainment, and other industries. Alec started his career working in large Fortune 500 companies including Disney, Universal Studios, and Gateway Computer.

Alec Tilly

Alec Tilly

Oklahoma State University, BS Industrial Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology, MS Industrial Engineering
Anderson School at UCLA, MBA
(7) Alec Tilley | LinkedIn