John San Filippo
Corelation 2022: Catching Up with Mike Kirk of ENACOMM
By John San Filippo
Originally founded as an interactive voice response (IVR) company, ENACOMM now offers a wide range of self-service products to credit unions and other financial entities. These include voice access through speech-enabled technologies such as Alexa or Google. Finopotamus had the opportunity to sit down with Senior Vice President Mike Kirk to discuss technology at the recent Corelation client conference, at which ENACOMM was a major sponsor. The company claims nearly half of all Corelation users as its customers.
What’s Old Is New
Asked about the company’s early days, Kirk responded, “IVR systems used to be boxes that sat, at best, in somebody's data room and at worst, in the bottom of a closet. They sat there for years and years and years and ran and ran and did the same thing – until Y2K came. Then the credit union had to find out where the box was and see what they could do to make sure that it wasn't going to blow up with everything else at the stroke of midnight. Of course, they didn't.”
According to Kirk, the shift from on-premise IVR solutions to hosted SaaS (software as a service) models began about 15 years ago. Today, all of ENACOMM’s products and services are hosted in the cloud.
“IVR is something we still offer today,” said Kirk. “There are more speech technologies out there today than there ever have been in the past, so it's come all the way around. You can talk to your car, so why shouldn't you be able to, in your car, driving down the road, ask Alexa your checking balance?”
Kirk noted that when the web gained dominance, pundits predicted that IVR would die a quick and merciless death. It didn’t. “There was a little downtick globally in IVR usage, but speech is on the rise now,” he said. For this reason, ENACOMM’s products all revolve around enhancing the voice experience. For example, the company includes intelligent, automated call routing in its product set.
Making It Easier for Credit Unions and Members
“When the member transfers out of self-service to the call center, we can display a screen pop for the call center agent with the caller identification information, an indication of whether they've authenticated or not, and any other important information, for example if they’re Spanish speaking,” explained Kirk. In that case, the call would be routed to a Spanish-speaking agent.
Kirk pointed out that member authentication is becoming increasingly important. The challenge, he noted, is making sure the authentication is secure while creating a minimum amount of friction for the member. “Typically, we use a PIN, but that could be different based on the type of transaction.” For example, a large-dollar transaction could require some form of multifactor authentication. Kirk said the company also uses voice biometrics as needed.
The COVID Factor
Kirk said that ENACOMM’s customers universally reported significant increases in call volumes as the pandemic took hold of the nation. “Our customers were getting inundated with calls,” he said. “People wanted to know if a check had hit. Whether they got paid. Can they go to the grocery store? Can I go shopping?”
The question for credit unions was how to address what was hopefully a temporary problem. Adding more agents would be expensive and would result in over-staffing as call volumes fell to normal levels. Leaving members on hold for 45 minutes wasn’t a good option, either. The key was making authentication more efficient and more automated.
“Once the member authenticated, we could play their balance right then,” added Kirk. He said that by proactively providing key account information to the member, pass-throughs to live agents were greatly reduced. And if the member did choose to wait, they’d already be fully authenticated, thereby shortening the call to a minimum.
Adding Artificial Intelligence
As the need to become more predictive has accelerated, Kirk said that ENACOMM has been “weaving AI applications into our products for at least the last three years.” He added that the company is working on a new chatbot that will rely heavily on AI.
“We use predictive AI now to create a more personalized experience by looking at past history to predict future requests,” said Kirk. “For example, let’s say the last two times you called in, you wanted your checking account balance. The next time you call, we’ll ask if you want to hear your checking account balance without being prompted.” He said that members will often end the call at this point.
All the Right Tools
Kirk told Finopotamus that one of ENACOMM’s key differentiators is the depth and breadth of its product suite. “There are other companies that provide similar type applications,” he said. “If you took several of those and glued them together, they could do all of what we do.” He added that most credit unions don’t have the IT resources to devote to connecting disparate systems.
Cloud delivery is another strategic advantage. “There's nothing to install and it's a flat monthly fee,” said Kirk. “We've been referred to as the easy button in a core conversion. We get everything set up and go live and we're good to go.”
Kirk concluded, “I don't usually call ENACOMM a one-stop shop, but for what we offer for member self-service, especially speech-enabled member self-service, we really are.”