Speech Analytics Increases Profitability at Bluegreen Vacations

By Kim Henderson, Bluegreen Corporation

[one_half]Bluegreen VacationsTM is a half-billion-dollar resort ownership company. It provides 170,000 owners opportunities for points-based stays at more than 60 company resorts in the United States and Caribbean, plus 4,000 worldwide through third-party exchanges. Its 4,500 associates do business internally and externally guided by the company’s declared purpose, share happiness, which is based on statistical correlations between happiness and the number of vacations people take.

At the 200-seat Bluegreen Vacations Contact Center in Indianapolis, agents and their support team play a primary role in fulfilling the company’s commitment to its purpose. The company markets and sells vacation experiences, and contact  center service is part of that overall experience. Contact center performance can profoundly influence the level of customer satisfaction — and happiness.

The contact center fields 1.2 million calls annually. Its agents provide full-service  assistance to deeded, lifetime owners in the Bluegreen Vacation Club. The agents book vacations and provide other account-management services. They field questions and complaints. They provide concierge services to upgraded owners. To  best serve these customers requires instantaneous poised and professional response even in emotionally charged conversations. It requires product knowledge equal to or greater than the caller’s own. And it requires sophisticated attention  and sensitivity to every bit of data that can be gleaned about the caller before and during calls — because after may be too late.

This center, honored by the resort industry last year as best in its size, moved all pertinent service metrics upward in 2012 by leveraging speech analytics with other new data streams — owner surveys and commissioned social media analytics. Together they form the basis for a better understanding of owners from novice to top-tier. This holistic approach enables agents at the Bluegreen Vacations Indianapolis Contact Center to better anticipate, understand and meet owner needs — to better share happiness.

“Why are the owners calling?”

That simple question asked by President and CEO John Maloney in 2007 became the impetus for the customer analytics-driven success trajectory of the Bluegreen Vacations Indianapolis Contact Center. Important metrics have risen across the spectrum since the speech analytics software that the company utilizes began finding answers to Maloney’s question in 2011. Today the creative integration of speech analytics, email surveys, and social media analytics data represents a holistic and successful all-channels approach, achieved in the absence of CRM, to knowing and better satisfying Bluegreen Vacations owners.

Such original solutions have been necessary throughout the conversion of this former pure call center to full service provider. Bold and resourceful leadership  has offset limitations in technology. Now the team communicates with owners by phone, email, chat, and social media — it books vacations, helps manage owner accounts, provides concierge travel service, sells ancillary products, and even collects maintenance and HOA dues. Thanks largely to analytics technology customized in-house, the center also has increased profitability. After losing $2.4 million in 2007, it earned $7 million in first quarter 2013 alone. As capital investment in technology catches up to contact center ingenuity, greater and previously unavailable opportunities for superior service are opening and rapidly expanding.

First quarter 2013 metrics highlight the effectiveness of the tools and processes in place. They also show how the programs help fulfill strategic goals mapped out in a 2011 initiative called “Voice of the Customer.”

Speech Analytics

Training — a key to the initiative’s first phase — became more sophisticated and targeted because of the speech analytics software, modified to include local proprietary terms in its searches and scored lexicon. The results speak for themselves. The center’s Customer Satisfaction Index was 26% higher, Agent Quality Index  19% higher, and percentage of silence lower across all main topics than in first quarter 2012.

Agents began using words and phrases identified as stimulators of customer satisfaction. One phrase, “Are you satisfied with the service I provided today?”, appeared in 78% of calls — 152% more frequently than prior to coaching. The training impacted the bottom line. Ancillary sales increased — notably in Points Protection reservation cancellation insurance, up by 16%.

Early training was based on feedback that identified specific team weaknesses. Modules on managing conflict and difficult conversations became priorities in the mandatory training curriculum. Agents also learned to recognize opportunities to use “magic words” — words and phrases that score high in expressing empathy and ownership of problem resolution.


Agents thus began replacing “I’m so sorry, but …” with the far more empirically empathetic “I understand why you’re frustrated” and  telegraphing  positive action steps with phrases like “Let’s get started.” And in a particularly exceptional usage of technology and information, a contact center analyst gained insight of how long callers tolerate discussion of a problem before  frustration sets in. This insight led to a module on managing discussions toward swifter articulation of action steps.

Beyond all that, analytics identified top call drivers, seasonality of topics, reactions to product rollouts, and other trends that spurred positive action. For example, it detected a high frequency of owner requests for a paper form to be filled out. The ensuing decision to migrate the form to the website saved 2,200 processing hours. The fee collection process benefited from analytics, too. Data showed a high correlation between delinquent fees and owner dissatisfaction. Instead of calling to seek payments, agents now try first to re-engage active ownership by querying owners on their dissatisfaction and  attempting resolution, and analytics helps shape the approach. Analytics also dictated a holistic strategy concerning another high-volume driver of delinquency. It found that many owners delay payment until receiving their tax refunds. Incredibly, collection monies increased in first quarter 2013 by 48% over first quarter 2012.

All else equal, the metrics promise continual upward trajectory as associate comfort with analytics technology increases. Not surprisingly, not all agents embraced “Big Brother” monitoring their every word. But the speech analytics software provided a solution there, too — one that aligned with strategy to complement “Voice of the Customer” with an emotional engagement component for associates. The initial perception of analytics as a tool for recording negative performance has changed; an incentive bonus based on analytics feedback helped. Once rewarded only for sales metrics, agents now receive bonuses based on  the measurable qualitative experience they provide callers. It’s in their best interest to pay attention to trainers and personal mentoring. And the next step comes in 2014, when managers implement a performance-based pay scale.

Email surveys

Since July 2012, every owner receives a satisfaction survey via email after every vacation stay. This process advances the core strategic goal in Phase 2 of “Voice of the Customer,” to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the caller. Before, Bluegreen Vacations circulated only single annual surveys that yielded little insight. The frequent email surveys, conversely, have revealed specific concerns, especially when enhanced with system analysis of freeform comment fields as text. Center agents reach out to disenchanted owners via outbound calls. The results improved all related metrics comparing first-quarter 2013 with end-of-year 2012. Owner satisfaction scores are up with agents and ownership in  general. Agents were regarded as 1% to 2% more knowledgeable, appreciative, friendly, and courteous and similarly better at understanding needs, offering alternatives, and providing guidance. Owners’ general likelihood of recommending Bluegreen Vacations is up, too. More significantly, the Net Promoter Score is up by more than 2 points. And Top Box scores — owners who rate contact center service 9 or 10 on a 1-to-10 scale — increased from 79.9% to 83.5%. Social Media Analytics Social media analytics reports — begun in 2012 as part of Phase 3 of “Voice of the People” — monitor social media channels for discussion related to Bluegreen Vacations and flag negative comments. As with the e-mail surveys,  agents then reach out to the owners. No metrics assess its impact, but this third tool complements the others and provides quick feedback from an important source of owner dialogue.

What’s Next?

In March 2013, the Indianapolis Contact Center implemented a change aimed directly at customer-retention metrics. Specially trained agents now cater to two groups considered hypercritical to the future success of Bluegreen Vacations: newcomers and top-tier, or Premier, owners. The Exclusive Team brings greater expertise in all aspects of account management. Its need was ascertained from the earliest post-launch speech analytics feedback in 2011. Team members engage hesitant new owners to “spend” reservation “points” they’ve purchased and follow through with booking vacations, at which time the upselling process can begin. They also provide “white glove” treatment that keeps top owners replenishing their points.

Bluegreen Vacations’  commitment to upgrading technology for the Indianapolis Contact Center continues. The team’s once-considerable disadvantage in platforms and technologies continues to shrink. And even as that occurs, the team’s forward-thinking and award-worthy use of present technology evolves.

When John Maloney asked in 2007, “Why are the owners calling?” the truth is that nobody really knew.

That isn’t the case anymore.

Kim Henderson is Director of Profit Optimization, Club Services, at Bluegreen Corporation. She may be reached at Kimberly.henderson@bluegreencorp.com. Bluegreen was a winner in the recent CRMXcellence Challenge in the Best Use of Customer Analytics category. Congratulations! For more information about the CRMXcellence Challenge, please visit www.crmxcellenceawards.com.