Companies Learn Slowly from IVR Mistakes

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As long as the user completes the transaction, the business objective is met, but was the process intuitive, easy, and effective for the consumer? Too often, no. And the reason is usually that the firm’s goals and the customer’s goals are antithetical. The customer wants to talk to someone who can help fix a problem. The business wants callers to help themselves with as little agent involvement as possible.

Companies see the IVR as an opportunity to reduce expenses: Lowering agent call times can have a dramatic financial impact. “If a company reduces call time by 30 seconds and handles 1 million calls a year, the reduced expenses are quite significant,” says Frontside’s Pawlak. The company views the IVR as a traffic manager where yes/no, “Press 1” responses enable the firm to automate simple functions and reduce manpower requirements. 

Another problem is that the marketing department frequently drives system design. As a result, the opening prompt begins with a company sales pitch rather than an effort to help solve the problem. A better time for a marketing pitch is at the end of the transaction, after the problem has been rectified and the customer is satisfied.

A Change in Outlook

Better IVR prompt design starts with a more empathetic view of the interaction. “Studies about human and machine system interactions started in the 1940s and ‘50s,” Pawlak says. “Initially, pilot error was blamed for every plane crash. Eventually, companies understood that maybe they could design a better system and not expect people to adapt to systems instead of vice-versa.” 

Mistakes stem from the complexity and flow of the system. As noted, customers who call are often already agitated and do not want to spend time listening to long lists of options, and they are also often unfamiliar with systems and IVR call flows. Without a visual element, they have to remember what they are hearing. Since they do not know what information is coming next and do not have notes to show which options were already presented, they regularly lose track of their options, especially as the number of possible responses increases.

So enterprises first need to make their menus short and simple, offering just a small handful of options for each step and a small number of steps. 

It’s worth noting here that IVRs are not a good fit for every customer interaction. “For a while, there was a lot of hype about how much speech recognition could help organizations, so it was pushed into areas where it did not fit,” says Andrew Kuan, CEO of Plum Voice, a provider of cloud-based business communications, who notes that IVR technology works well with minor requests that can be completed in a few steps. Because companies should only offer a limited number of choices, they need to choose the categories carefully and not jam too many options into each selection. 

In sum, the process has to be quick; the interaction should not last more than a few minutes. If consumers have to listen for 25 seconds or more, they forget what the first option was. “For customers, 20 seconds is a lifetime,” Kuan says. “Consumers do not want to wait more than two to three minutes to get where they want to go: to an agent for a resolution to their problem.”

Building a concise script has become an ever greater challenge. Businesses want to incorporate more flexibility and as much functionality as possible into their systems, which ends up adding menu complexity and making the systems harder to use. 

In addition to being quick and concise, the process should follow a logical path. Businesses should put their most popular menu options first so that callers can act immediately. Pauses should be placed at times during the process for the same reason. Consumers need time to absorb the information and evaluate their choices. Also, people using cell phones must constantly move the phone away from their ear to press the correct keys.

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