Successful mutual fund service organizations realize that behind every transaction is a customer-a person with various commitments and interests, places to be and things to worry about.

When building a customer relationship, technology can ensure that every touch point, whether through an interactive voice response (IVR) system, the Internet or a live service operator, is consistent, accessible and professional.

Natural language speech-recognition technology enables shareholders and plan participants to quickly navigate IVR systems. Using "regular" conversational speech, customers can make inquiries and conduct basic transactions without having to press buttons or wait for a customer service representative.

Voice authentication, the next level of voice technology, uses the biometric characteristics of the voice and vocal tract to identify a caller. The technology measures behavioral characteristics as well as physical characteristics, so even a voice that is hoarse or nasal with a cold can be identified.

Voiceprint authentication software, fully integrated with mutual fund and retirement recordkeeping platforms, enables shareholders and plan participants to use their voices to access account information. Convenient and unobtrusive, voice authentication enables callers to speak their tax ID or account number without being required to provide a PIN or password, which can be stolen, guessed or forgotten.

Because voice authentication has these advantages over passwords and PINs, shareholders and participants are more confident that their transactions and account information are safe. In addition, voice authentication provides potential cost savings for fund companies, which typically realize shorter call duration, increased automation rates, reductions in PIN re-set and other administrative calls, and brand reinforcement-not to mention enhanced fraud protection.

Computer telephony integration (CTI) customer service tools, combined with voice technologies, can further enhance the customer experience. Imagine a common scenario in which a shareholder calls the IVR system to conduct a transaction. He speaks his request into the natural language application, and is then prompted to authenticate his identity using his voice. He continues to conduct his business, but ultimately decides he would like to speak to a customer service representative.

With CTI, the shareholder's call, along with his account information, is sent via advanced call routing to the customer service representative best prepared to help him. The representative can view on their computer screen not only who is calling, but that he has already been authenticated. The shareholder doesn't have to go through the frustrating process of answering personal questions to re-identify and re-authenticate.

One DST client, DWS Scudder, has taken the innovative step of actually "fronting" its entire call center operation with integrated voice-CTI capability. DWS Scudder routes all incoming calls, whether intended for the IVR system or for a customer service representative, first through the voice response/voice authentication system. The system's natural language recognition capability enables shareholders and participants to move through this initial phase of their calls quickly and easily; in fact, many calls intended for a customer service representative are ultimately resolved quickly and comfortably through the IVR system.

Imagine another scenario. A retirement plan participant decides to adjust her investment allocation through her plan provider's website. When she receives her next statement, however, she realizes that the reallocations have not been made to her expectations. She places a call to the call center, provides voice authentication through the IVR and is routed to a customer service representative.

Business process management (BPM) technology, which incorporates imaging and workflow processes, has captured and stored an image of the participant's transaction confirmation page from the provider's website. Because this capability is tightly integrated with the provider's recordkeeping platform, the call center representative is able to see exactly what the participant requested and compare it to what was executed. The representative can even e-mail the stored web confirmation page to the participant and efficiently resolve the issue.

Similarly, if the participant had mailed in a written request, her correspondence would be accessible to the representative as a digital file. If she had made her reallocation request over the phone, her conversation would have been recorded for review on demand. The representative could even play the call back to the participant.

All customer touch points-VRU, web, mail and live customer service interactions-are integrated, providing a seamless experience and helping to ensure customer confidence in the information provided.

In a call center application, every second counts. The faster and more efficiently a fund company's representatives can resolve a shareholder's concerns, the greater the confidence that shareholder has in the fund company. Strategically applied technology solutions help build customer relationships based on confidence, timeliness and trust.

(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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