The Chicago Sun-Times earlier this year implemented technology to bolster self-service functions for its subscribers. The publisher selected Innovative Systems Design’s Chatterbox Cloud Self-Service platform, which enables interactive voice response (IVR).

The app has allowed the Sun-Times to increase efficiencies by reducing the amount of live call interactions necessary, and transitioning customers to self-service for the most common needs and complaints. In the roughly six months the app has been in use, the Sun-Times said it has increased customer response times, while also making more valuable use of customer service representatives’ time to handle issues that require live calls with customers.

“With more calls being captured by Chatterbox and less going to customer service agents, our costs have been greatly reduced, which is huge for us,” Vice President of Circulation Sheila Reidy told News & Tech.

The publisher’s previous system was not providing that type of efficiency, and customer service reps were consistently bogged down.

“Our previous system allowed customers to call in and either speak with a representative, or log some type of complaint,” Director or Circulation Sales and Service Iza Kinel explained. “Besides lacking the efficiencies we were looking for, we didn’t have all of the options we needed.”

That led the Sun-Times to search for an option that put customers first and gave them easy access to the options they were most often seeking. Kinel said the newspaper evaluated a number of other systems and ISD’s

Chatterbox solution was the obvious choice.

“We were impressed with their technology, their onboarding process, and the cost,” she said. “They’ve also provided us with ongoing support and customer service.”

Streamlining call center ops

The Sun-Times works hard to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction. It also prides itself on the fact that its call center is not located overseas, unlike so many other publishers that have been outsourced customer service functions as a cost-cutting measure.

The publisher works with U.S. based Millennial Services to staff its call center.That support, combined with the Chatterbox app, according to Reidy, has helped the newspaper streamline the resolution of customer requests and ensure that customer service functions remain here in the U.S.

“With the combination of these two things, I feel that our customers are getting the best service they’ve had in years,” she said. “And so many companies have outsourced outside of the U.S., but we’ve been able to bring this back home — and our customers have told us how great they think that is.”

Outbound calling functionality

In addition to managing incoming calls, the Sun-Times deployed the Chatterbox Outbound Notification cloud module for automated customer service calls. The outbound module manages automated calls, emails and text messages for things including new subscription start verifications, redelivery verifications, credit card expirations and many other issues.

Kinel said the ease of use in creating messages that can be communicated to customers before they reach a rep has been impressive with the Chatterbox system.

“We can easily create automated messages on a distribution issue, for example, or if there is a change in the paper we want to communicate, we can do that as well,” she said.

The Sun-Times is also leveraging Chatterbox native VoIP SIP technology to route high-quality, low cost internet calls when it’s necessary to transfer subscribers to a customer service agent.

High customer engagement

Customer engagement with the system has been encouraging. Kinel said the publisher has seen an uptick in actions, including self-service payments and missed paper complaints.

The system has also been user-friendly for the Sun-Times’ older subscribers, according to Reidy.

“We have a lot of elderly customers that need a system to help solve their problems quickly, and that has been a huge plus from Chatterbox,” she said. “Elderly customers feel comfortable with this system.”

If, for some reason, the system can’t process a customer issue or complaint, Chatterbox creates a report for staff. They can then go back and test to determine why the issue wasn’t processed.

“Wehaven’t hadan issuethey haven’tbeen abletoresolve,”Kinelsaid.

Besides those issue reports, Chatterbox creates a weekly report to inform staff on things like how many redeliveries are being initiated each week.

Staff satisfaction with the Chatterbox platform has been high across the board, from the launch timeline, to training, to deployment and ongoing customer service support.

“It feels like we have been in business with them for much longer than we have,”Reidy said. “They make us feel like we are important to them, and that matters.”