Blog Post

Is Yours An IVR…or An IVRn’t?

No contact center technology is more notorious than interactive voice response or IVR. This three-letter acronym more often than not is viewed by customers and the media as a four-letter word.

But the truth is, the universal hatred for this instrument of automation isn’t really justified. Granted, some – okay, many – IVR systems are certainly deserving of customer wrath; however, there is nothing inherently wrong or evil about IVR technology itself. The problem lies in the common programming and design mistakes that are made – by humans.

The term “customer-centric automation” is not oxymoronic by definition. This is evidenced by the successful IVR applications in place in numerous world-class contact centers – applications that every day delight customers, unburden agents and bolster the contact center’s bottom line.

So what do these all-star IVR apps have in common? The following:

No more than four or five IVR menu options. Unless the person calling your automated system is also an automaton, he or she will not be able to easily process more than five menu choices. Many contact centers pat themselves on the back for offering eight to nine detailed and comprehensive options via their IVR, but all they are really doing is causing callers’ eyes to roll back into their heads and callers themselves to get lost in an electronic labyrinth.     

The ability to easily skip ahead to desired menu choices.
Don’t penalize repeat customers familiar with your IVR system by forcing them to sit through options they don’t care about. In top contact centers, the IVR recognizes that a customer pressed “3” or said what they wanted before the system presented such options and quickly gets the customer where they want to go.

Use of the same clear, professional recorded voice throughout the IVR. While it’s often fun to meet new people, it shouldn’t happen inside an IVR. Using multiple attendants can be confusing or jarring to callers, who really just want a single competent virtual assistant to guide them effortlessly through the IVR landscape.

An easy opt-out to a live agent at any time. As well-designed and delightful as your IVR system may be, there will always be some callers who don’t want to engage in self-service or who have a complex issue or inquiry that can’t be resolved/answered without live agent assistance. Making it difficult to get to an agent via the IVR (by obscuring the opt-out option behind a multitude of other menu choices or by not mentioning it at all) will only result in the customer taking out their frustration on the agent they eventually reach, or, worse, taking their business to an agent at one of your competitors.

Advanced speech recognition (ASR). Powered by natural language processing, ASR systems provide a much more personalized and human experience than traditional touchtone can. ASR-driven IVR systems reduce the number of steps callers must take to get what they need. Customers can cut through unnecessary menu options by saying exactly what they want right at the outset of the interaction. Yes, speech-enabled IVR isn’t cheap, but either is replacing customers who lose their minds after pressing the wrong phone keypad 11 times.

CTI to ensure smooth, smart transfers. Given the following choice:

a)    having to repeat your name, account number and last four digits of your Social Security number to an agent after already providing said info to an IVR; or

b)    taking a hot stick in the eye…

…most people would choose “b”. To avoid such violence – and to shorten call lengths/reduce costs – smart contact centers incorporate computer telephony integration(CTI) technology into their IVR system, which integrates the voice and data portions of the call and delivers that information directly to the agent desktop. This simple, sensible transfer of information has an immense impact on the customer experience and the amount of growling agents must endure.

 

About the author

Author of Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact. He has written hundreds of feature articles, case studies, blog posts and research reports on contact center best practices trends and challenges. He is founder and principal of Off Center, which provides a variety of resources to educate, inspire and entertain contact center professionals. Levin is the former editor of ICMI’s pioneering publication Service Level Newsletter, as well as its highly regarded follow-up journal Call Center Management Review.

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