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Vocalis assists Powergen with a new Direct Debit setup service and BACS recommends scripts.

Business savings of up to 18bn a year and typical savings for every household of 146 a year undoubtedly make Direct Debits the most efficient method for bill payment.

Until recently, customers had to speak to a contact centre agent, fill in forms, or use a touch tone system to set up a Direct Debit. There was no customer-friendly automated service. Now, however, thanks to work carried out by Vocalis for Powergen, Direct Debits can be set up efficiently, securely, quickly and automatically.

Over 35 million people in the UK currently pay their bills by Direct Debit, according to research by BACS, which administers Direct Debits in the UK. This figure is increasing partly because of the growing popularity of 'remote' banking. One in three UK adults now banks by telephone and one in six on the Internet.

Businesses such as Powergen offer customers the ability to pay by Direct Debit at every available and appropriate opportunity such as on the back of bills or by agents in contact centres, because it is an efficient and reliable way to pay. It also encourages customers to view the companies they pay in this way as easy to deal with.

As well as being easy for customers, Direct Debit can assist with the cash flow for businesses. Nearly a third of consumer payments to businesses are late, so businesses that issue bills regularly to customers, such as utilities, local authorities, finance companies and mobile phone operators, are keen to encourage consumers to pay on time by Direct Debit.

The process of setting up a Direct Debit to Powergen (and indeed any business issuing a bill) has, until recently, been by using either a postal application form or over the telephone with a call agent. Applications always require the same information, and, importantly, must outline terms and conditions of Direct Debits for customers. It is a structured process that has to adhere to Direct Debit requirements making it ideal for automation.

So, previously, when setting up a Direct Debit through the Powergen call centre, the call agent had to read out specific information to the customer to ensure they understand the process fully. This had to include details on the guarantee, an explanation of when and how the Direct Debit will be set up and information on the advance notice period. The conversation also had to gather and verify information on the customer's bank details. This presented a number of issues.

Setting up a Direct Debit by phone requires the customer to reveal their bank details to a call agent. This can cause concerns about security. An automated service ensures that a standard script is followed and all terms and conditions are covered with the customer, which complies with Direct Debit regulations.

If the process becomes complicated or is badly explained, mistakes are often made or the customer is confused. Customers can, in these circumstances, cancel or fail to commit to the Direct Debit or even come away with a tarnished view of the company's efficiency and trustworthiness, causing unnecessary harm to the company's brand and reputation.

There is also the issue of deciphering people's handwriting on application forms, which can require, time-consuming confirmation of details by telephoning the customer. Alternatively incorrect information can be entered into the database which can have repercussions across the organisation, such as bills being sent to the wrong address.

Powergen recognised the potential for automating the Direct Debit process in a customer friendly way. The company also acknowledges that the process could be time consuming for call agents, preventing them from completing other tasks or servicing more customers.

Vocalis, which works with organisations to help build their business through contact centres, looked to address some of these issues as part of a larger project it was working on with Powergen. Working together, Vocalis and Powergen, developed a voice driven service for paperless Direct Debit transactions. The service sets up Direct Debits efficiently, securely and quickly and ensures that the Direct Debit requirements are adhered to. In addition, because it is automated the process is consistent and always accurate.

John Gunter, customer services director for Powergen, said: "The new scripting was key to the success of the voice driven service for setting up Direct Debits."

"Because of the strict structured process for setting up a Direct Debit, in terms of what the customer has to be told and the information they must supply, the scripting had to adhere to the prescribed procedure."

"Vocalis provided a service that avoided using any jargon so that it would be easier for customers to understand for each step of the process."

As a result of the successful commercial deployment for Powergen the newly developed script has been adopted by BACS as the standard for automated paperless Direct Debit transactions.

Paul Wright, CEO of Vocalis, said: "Although the payment process behind the scenes remains the same, which was important from a procedure perspective, getting the script updated and correct was critical to the overall success of the transaction as it is the script that the callers interact with.

"The script was created to be efficient, comprehensive and, importantly, easy to understand and use. It is written using plain English and gives customers plenty of opportunity to ask for help."

A series of questions quickly gathers required information from customers. Many questions require only a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Customers can also reply in normal sentences and the system will identify and register relevant information, such as account numbers and sort codes. Importantly, at each step, the system explains what is happening and why, and provides both help options to offer more information, or 'get-outs' so that the customer can immediately cancel the process. The system also reads out the necessary Direct Debit information on Direct Debits that consumers must be made aware of. In total, the new service takes a couple of minutes to conclude and is completely secure because all the information is directly put into the system by the computer - no human work is required.

Paul Wright said: "Customers can respond more positively to this efficiency, certainty and security. This Direct Debit service is quick and efficient for consumers. For organisations, it saves valuable time in the contact centre and helps them gather payments quickly and on time."

A spokesperson at BACS said: "With the increase in volumes of Paperless Direct Debit transactions taking place, BACS welcomes Vocalis' expertise in the development of the script which outlines the interaction process for all automated paperless transactions. As the script has already been commercially deployed and is proven to fulfil the requirements of all parties, we are happy to recommend it as the template for future automated Paperless Direct Debit transactions."

For more information on this installation and others please contact Vocalis on
+44 (0) 1223 846177.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Location :: Solutions/Case Studies/BACS