Companies Learn Slowly from IVR Mistakes

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There should never be holes in the choices. The selections should be sequential; a menu where users are given the choice of pressing 1, 2, or 4 creates confusion. Companies should put the numbers after the descriptions rather than the other way around. For example, “To hear our product descriptions, press or say 1,” rather than “Press 1 to hear our product descriptions.”

Prompts have to use everyday language. The IVR should not rely on long words or uncommon phases, and firms need to avoid including any industry or company jargon that customers would be unlikely to understand. Any question asked should have a simple answer. The systems should include all-inclusive options so the user understands how to move forward.

Providing an Out

A well-designed IVR provides the customer with an easy out. Customers do not think in terms of channels; they are just trying to solve their problems by any means available. So the business should not be afraid to give the caller the option to speak with someone at any time by pressing a button. 

While companies often do not want their customers to take that step, it is inevitable in many instances. Some callers will always zero out, and others will go for an agent most of the time. If consumers get lost or frustrated, it is better to have them speak with an agent than to hang up and perhaps never call again. Under no circumstances should users have to request to speak to a representative twice.

Speaking of repetition, most customers hate having to repeat their personal information and problem multiple times. Any system needs to keep track of the information gathered during the process and pass it along to other applications used in servicing the customer. 

Tone is another important consideration. Firms want to be polite when they talk to customers, but it is important not to overdo it. Using “please” for every request can begin to sound monotonous, and if a customer completes a simple task like pressing a button, they do not need to be thanked for taking that step. On the flip side, if a customer has been waiting on hold for 10 minutes before being connected to an agent, then the firm should thank her for her patience.

In some cases, businesses are making exceptions for certain customers. Companies are collecting more information about their customers and getting a better understanding of which ones are most crucial to the business. As a result, some firms could consider providing high-priority customers with another phone number or another path so they are serviced quickly. 

The Design Process 

IVR system design is a process of trial-and-error. Businesses should start to test the system with real-world users so they can identify problems as early as possible, even before the system goes live. They need to get a few customers to volunteer to call in and use the system to resolve their problems.

Tuning the system involves trade-offs between how much time, money, and effort companies put into the process versus the possible bottom-line improvements. The most significant gains occur in the early stages of any rollout. Extensive testing is usually required during the first few months (maybe monthly updates). Later, tune-ups every six months or so are recommended.

Yet many companies do not tune the system after the installation. “Systems become worse over time because of what we call IVR rot,” says Kerry Robinson, CEO of VoxGen, an IVR systems provider. Here, system performance degrades due to changes in customer needs and business processes. While contact center agents adapt to these changes naturally, IVRs do not, and the solution’s effectiveness plummets. 

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