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Is Your Goal to Get Rid of Money?

Relying solely on industry standards sets the bar too low.
By Susan L. Hura - Posted Jun 1, 2009
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I’ve had a spate of clients asking for “industry standard” information recently in the early phases of their interactive voice response (IVR) projects. Clients have quizzed me about the standard IVR technology in their industry, standard functionality being automated in their industry, standard self-service rates, and standard customer satisfaction scores. I understand and endorse the desire to know where an organization stands in the competitive landscape, but I see problems with the way some clients want to use industry standard information, and even with the information itself.  

An understanding of the playing field is a good way to validate that the services offered make sense in a particular industry, but clients sometimes want to use standards as a way to define goals for their own IVR initiatives. That’s essentially saying, “We want to do just what everyone else is doing!” which is typically not a winning business strategy. When clients ask about industry standards, they’re trying to make sure they are keeping pace with the competition to protect their brands and keep customers happy. That’s a noble goal, but relying on industry standards to get there is a mistake. 

Like Everyone Else 

An industry standard, after all, is just that: It’s the same thing that everyone else is doing. Remember that the sort of standards we’re talking about here are not the result of some expert advisory panel debating what’s best, or rigorous testing of what does and doesn’t work for organizations and their customers. IVR industry standards are simply a measure of what’s currently being done by other companies. By basing corporate IVR strategies on industry standards, you set your sights on the middle of the pack, no higher. Moreover, using standards as a way of setting goals means you’re adopting IVR strategies that were developed for a different customer base. Organizations typically want to differentiate themselves from the competition, not copy it, and they want to address the specific needs of their own customers. And here’s a sobering thought: Even if you understand industry IVR standards, you don’t necessarily know how well other IVRs in the industry are performing. I advise my clients not to risk aligning their IVR strategy with industry standards unless we’re really sure the standard works for the competition, and that the same strategy will work for them, as well.  

The reason this is such a big deal is that scarce resources are most often on the line. The belief that industry standards should guide an IVR initiative could cost time and money. Instead, I recommend using competitive industry data as just one piece of the puzzle in defining an IVR strategy. Spend the time as an organization to understand what you need and want to achieve in your IVR project. Lots of organizations start out with high-level goals, like improving customer service; the challenge is to figure out how to measure these high-level goals. It’s vital to define success criteria up front, before launching a project, and then to come up with a plan for judging the results when you’re done. If you aren’t confident in your ability to do this internally, many IVR providers offer strategy services to help define the best path forward for IVR self-service. 

If you don’t start out with clear, measurable goals for what an IVR is going to do for your organization, then design and development will proceed blindly without a clear objective. This increases the likelihood of scope creep and making design and development changes after the fact—both enemies of staying on schedule and on budget.

It’s also vital to understand the situation at your own organization before launching an IVR initiative. I often see clients who want every detail about what the competition is doing, but who have very little insight into their own current IVR. Understanding your current situation, no matter what technology you have in place, is really step one in defining measurable success criteria. Starting a new IVR project without knowing where you stand today is like deciding to reduce your monthly expenses without knowing what they are. If you look only at how much you spent this month, without knowing last month’s expenditures, how do you judge if you were successful at spending less? Similarly, if you don’t have current IVR performance scores, then you’ll never know if the new IVR is working better, no matter how much you measure it.  

I’m all for keeping your eye on the competition, but don’t cheat yourself out of a custom IVR strategy specifically targeted to meet your goals. Looking to the industry standard alone is like setting a goal of getting rid of money, and who can sell that to upper management?


Susan Hura is vice president of user experience at Product Support Solutions. She can be reached at shura@psshelp.com.

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