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Marks & Spencer revamps contact center with Twilio IVR, Programmable Voice, and speech recognition

U.K. retail giant handles 12 million incoming calls more quickly and efficiently by deriving actionable intent from customer calls, seeing a $10M uplift in sales.

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The Results
call routing accuracy
caller response and engagement
seconds saved on contact center calls

Marks & Spencer, founded in 1884, is a retailer with a company-wide emphasis on quality. This value of quality is infused into all aspects of their customer relations. Beginning in the early 20th century, Marks & Spencer was one of the first retailers to accept returned purchases—with receipt—for a full cash refund, regardless of when the product was purchased.

This focus on quality customer service continues today, but not without challenges. Just as the general public’s preference in clothing styles and food tastes change from season to season, communication preferences evolve, with many consumers worldwide opting to speak with businesses in a variety of ways—in-store, via email, on the phone, through webchat, and by text message. Marks & Spencer felt the pressure to modernize to remain relevant to today's consumers.

Marks & Spencer had a limited understanding of why their customers were calling and how they should be directed. To modernize their IVR, they needed a partner that could offer natural language processing (NLP) and a high-quality customer intent analysis to fully understand why customers were calling and where best to route them.

Replacing Legacy Communications

Before partnering with Twilio, the retailer's customer service infrastructure consisted of legacy phone systems ill-equipped to support a modern digital customer contact strategy. As a result, Marks & Spencer was unable to centralize customer information and could not seamlessly connect customers across its stores and contact centers throughout the UK. That poses a challenge when customers are looking for a specific store, department, or sales agent.

To ensure "best-in-class" customer experiences, the company looked to replace their legacy phone system, which was being stretched with routing over a million calls to stores and contact centers every month. The goal was to take advantage of automation and newer technologies, like artificial intelligence, to improve the accuracy, efficiency, and scalability of customer call routing. And, of course, the solution had to maintain high-availability and uptime during open hours, especially during peak shopping seasons.

Well Paired: Twilio Programmable Voice & Speech Recognition

As a part of the retailer’s digital transformation initiative, the IT team began looking for an agile solution they could deploy across the entire business to enhance the customer experience. Their search brought them to Twilio. In just four weeks, Marks & Spencer designed a Twilio-powered prototype that would automate the company’s existing switchboard, using Programmable Voice and Speech Recognition APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). They then tested Twilio’s technology during a trial run on Marks & Spencer’s two busiest days of the year, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, where it handled more than 20,000 customer calls.

Chris McGrath, Marks & Spencer's IT Program Manager, deemed the trial a success. “Twilio’s flexible cloud communications platform has enabled Marks & Spencer to experiment like a startup while executing like an enterprise,” he said.

This solution, driven by AI-powered interactions and intelligent routing, allows Marks & Spencer to be more responsive to customer needs and gives them unprecedented visibility into the business. The application converts speech to text using a combination of Programmable Voice and Speech Recognition features and uses artificial intelligence to route calls to the correct department, or to present relevant self-serve opportunities to the customer. The speech-to-text component was able to translate customer queries into actionable intent with more than 90% accuracy, enabling the business to automatically route customers without needing to request a “reason for contact.”

Since contact center agents were no longer required to record "reason for contact,” the time it took to handle an average call was shaved by 10 seconds. The Twilio solution not only gives new insight into customer behavior, but uses that insight to more quickly route to the right agent and make agent response time even faster.

Ready for Production Deployment in 30 Days

With a track record of providing clients with a substantial development sandbox along with the necessary training and support, Twilio is no stranger to high impact projects. “We were able to prototype a solution in just four weeks and put it to the test during our busiest retail days of the year,” added McGrath. “The new solution has given Marks & Spencer an improved ability to have more direct and meaningful conversations with our customers.”

After a successful trial, Marks & Spencer deployed its intelligent natural language routing solution nationwide. The new communication solution allows Marks & Spencer to:

  • Handle more than one million inbound telephone calls a month
  • Convert customer speech into text in real time during any voice call, leveraging Twilio’s Speech Recognition API
  • Take the transcribed text and, through Twilio’s integration with Google DialogFlow, determine customer intent (i.e., why a customer is calling)
  • Route calls. The technology leverages this caller intent to direct the call to the appropriate department, store, or contact center agent to resolve the customer inquiry. The result is a more personal user experience than call routing using DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency) or touch-tone responses. In addition, this automatic routing solution is 90% accurate.
  • Improve call quality with less latency. Clear audio and reduced wait time during call transfers translated to an overall better customer experience.

The new solution has given Marks & Spencer an improved ability to have more direct and meaningful conversations with our customers. We’re excited to see where the platform takes us as we continue the roll out across our contact centers.


Working with Twilio

Has this entire effort had a positive effect on ROI? McGrath assures that it has and that it will continue to do so. “The Twilio-driven Natural Language Processing (NLP) platform that we are implementing as part of our store’s initiatives will save us millions, not thousands,” he said, adding “Twilio has enabled us to build like a start-up and scale like an enterprise.”

All in all, the company expects that over 12 million voice, chat, and email interactions will be handled by the new process annually. That capability will scale as the retailer makes automated customer support services available to 32 million Marks & Spencer customers in 57 countries serviced by nearly 1,500 stores and websites.

And while that's impressive, it's equally impressive that the solution was built—and agents were trained on it—in mere days. Also, Marks & Spencer was able to run the trial as part of the evaluation, so it knew what it was getting before fully committing. "Twilio was at every step with us in our initial integration,” said Akash Parmar, Enterprise Architect for Marks & Spencer, at a recent developer conference. "They helped us recognize the potential of this platform."

There's also the value of the partnerships. "Make sure you have the right team behind you when you start off on this journey,” Parmar added, referencing the working relationships between Twilio, DVELP, Google, and Dialogflow. “The technology landscape is changing so fast. You have to make sure that your architecture and your applications are open to that. New things are coming in every day, and we have to adapt to it very quickly as well.”

What’s Next For M&S

Today, when a customer calls any Marks & Spencer store, the company’s intelligent system immediately establishes what the customer is calling about and then routes the call to the correct destination via Twilio Programmable Voice. Marks & Spencer is also extending the services from Twilio, and will soon be rolling out delivery status updates via text message for its e-commerce customers, powered by Twilio Programmable SMS.

For Marks & Spencer, a company that has always focused on the quality of their customer’s experience, listening has always been essential. With technology solutions from Twilio, and the ability to rapidly deploy through software APIs, Marks & Spencer can listen more intelligently at scale, understand the needs of each customer more accurately, and provide a higher satisfaction than ever before.

As they evolve their customer communications strategies via new technologies, Marks & Spencer will continue to meet and exceed the high-quality and personalized retail experiences their customers have come to expect for over 130 years.