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Speech Recognition Technology Improves Service at Lillian Vernon's

Planning a traditional holiday? You'll need handmade wool stockings, garland wreaths, velvet-clad solid wood nutcrackers -- and lots of stress. Deadlines, anxiety and a heavy workload are all part of most celebrations this time of year, and the same is true for many IT departments. "The stress and the intensity level are definitely higher between October and January," says Elvis Cernjul, director of technical services at Lillian Vernon Corp., the 54-year-old, $180 million catalog company that specializes in personalized products, from Christmas stockings embroidered with first names to mailboxes adorned with family surnames.

In 2005, Lillian Vernon call center staff logged a total of 24 million minutes on phone calls with customers placing, changing and double-checking their orders. This year, Cernjul had the task of improving customer service at a price that would keep his CEO in good cheer.

Cernjul found an answer in speech recognition technology from Spoken Communications. "I don't know of another speech recognition or speech technology that offers a guided service," Cernjul says. Lillian Vernon's new system allows for a service representative -- or "guide" -- to monitor the progress of calls on a screen and even eavesdrop when necessary. Guides receive an alert when callers aren't making progress and can steer them to the right person without customers' knowledge. "We did a quick proof of concept at a call center, and immediately we saw the benefits," says Cernjul.

He sold the $200,000 deployment to Lillian Vernon's CEO on the promise of an estimated $100,000 cost savings in the first year and an average 12-second improvement in call resolution time.

In less than a week, the company saw an average improvement of 31 seconds per call. Problem solved.

Ellen O'Brien, a former senior editor at CIO Decisions, is now a senior editor at Storage magazine. Write to her at [email protected].

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