Is It Time to Abandon Your Interactive Voice Response System?

K. Landoline
K. Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Customer complaints regarding the IVR interface with customer service are so plentiful that many customers and companies wonder if they may not be achieving the purposes for which they were designed: to speed up service, reduce company costs, and improve customer satisfaction and longevity.
  • More intelligent IVRs and the expanding use of smartphones/tablets by consumers have the potential to alleviate today’s major IVR frustrations.  They can eliminate unnecessary interactions and enable visual IVR functionality allowing customers to navigate more easily through menu choices. 

I recently saw the results of a study done by New York University that said 49% of the people surveyed believed that use of interactive voice response (IVR) systems in customer service environments benefits neither the customer nor the company.  Only 15% of respondents felt that, as customers, they received any benefit from this common self-service tool being used by enterprises of all sizes today.  With this negative perception of IVRs being so widespread, you may wonder what is driving the growing use of the technology.  Well, to be honest, there are a few benefits to both customers and companies that originally brought IVRs to prominence in customer care circles.  First of all, IVRs enable companies to extend service hours without having to staff expensive live contact centers on a 24×7 basis.  Secondly, they do reduce queue times, because it has been shown that approximately two-thirds of calls coming into contact centers are fairly simple requests that effective IVRs can handle very well, freeing up live agents to take more complex calls requiring human interaction.  Finally, IVRs provide a sense of privacy or anonymity to consumers who may be calling to verify they are overdrawn on their checking account or late on a payment – facts they may not want to discuss with a live person.  So, don’t throw away your IVR just yet.

The major points of customer frustration and complaints with IVRs center on navigating through complex menus with too many choices, the inability to fit their issue into the categories of choices offered by the IVR, and the difficulty in quickly getting to a live person when necessary.  As discussed in my previous blog, the increased use of smartphones and tablets for accessing customer care services will clearly eliminate some of these major obstacles to IVR acceptance as customers are more easily able to see potential IVR flows without having to memorize or jot down their choices.  This not only applies to mobile customers, but will also be true of the growing number of customers using smart devices from their home or office, as seems to be the trend.  To promote the acceptance and adoption of the IVR, suppliers will need to create the ‘smart IVR’ that will be able to learn from its customers, enable shortcuts, and move more commonly selected choices to the top of the selection list as they learn a specific customer’s preferences.  This will include things such as remembering the customer’s language preference after the first interaction to avoid having to ask during future interactions.  For example, it would be great if an IVR answered a customer call with: “Welcome to the Electronics Depot.  I see there’s an order that has been placed for someone at this number.  Is that what you’re calling about?”

We may not be there yet, but IVR interactions are progressing as the IVR moves through its lifecycle from basic “push one for this, push two for that” functionality to the text-to-speech, speech recognition, and speaker identification and verification phases.  In addition, customer access endpoints are improving the ability of customers to interface with IVRs.  Therefore, I do not believe it is time to abandon your IVR, but time to improve it as we learn more about customer preferences and the technology is enhanced.  Eventually the IVR’s benefits will outweigh its shortcomings as customers learn to appreciate its ability to provide smarter self-service.    

What do you think?

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