Day 1 Keynoter: Design IVR Apps with Feelings

NEW YORK (SpeechTEK) -- Kicking off this year's conference, Emily Yellin gave a rousing speech based on her new book Your Call is Not That Important To Us. Yellin, a journalist, gave a well-attended talk that was a call to arms for companies to amend bad business practices, such as one she says initially inspired the book’s concept. She was on hold for hours for her home warranty company that was supposed to fix her furnace. It was then, that she realized that someone needed to look into these kinds of practices. “I try to do my reporting from the customer’s perspective,” she said. 

One of the central problems Yellin identified in her speech is that often customer interactions are dehumanized, either because there’s a large separation between the caller and call agent or because of an interactive voice response (IVR). Yellin asserted designers need to use machines to do good, not evil. “Your challenge,” she argued, “is to infuse what you do with humanity.” 

Design—of the entire customer service—follow-through, and values are most important to creating productive and meaningful customer interactions, Yellin stated. “What I’m talking about is a value system where what you’re doing means more than the numbers.”

She said some people call these “soft” skills, but she argued this aspect—of humanizing and paying attention to feelings—is even more difficult. She went on to say that even changing the smallest details of a customer’s experience makes a big difference.

Yellin relayed some colorful stories that illustrated how difficult customer interactions could become. In particular she brought the audience’s attention to a Comcast customer who called 47 times to have a problem with her service remedied. At some point after this negative customer experience, the customer noticed that her name on her bill was changed to “Bitchdog.” Comcast has turned around, but still has a ways to go, Yellin said, but she used the example to illustrate how ugly these interactions can become.

Yellin went on to say that the words that you use and how you use them are really important to how your customer sees you, especially when it comes to speech technology. What companies have to do, Yellin quoted from a JetBlue training problem, is to not tell customers the following things “You’re Stupid; I’m Not Going to Help You; I Don’t Care; Shut Up; You’re Lying.” The JetBlue trainer said that no one’s ever told a customer one of these things directly  (or they know that they shouldn’t) but that a lot of customer interactions end up saying one of these statements nonetheless. For example, Yellin quoted JetBlue trainers, “when you’re told that you should have been at your flight 90 minutes before your flight, you’re telling the customer they’re stupid.”

Yellin continued to discuss the importance of mitigating an IVR with a good experience. She again stressed the importance of language. While Yellin lauded the attempt to humanize automated voices (some are based on voice actors), and while she contended that speech technology has improved, she warned that IVR systems are still unpopular. 

Acronyms can be alienating, Yellin asserted. “I understand the shortcuts, the language, but when you start talking in a language only you understand, that’s really counter to what is supposed to be reaching out and connecting to customers.” 

Yellin said to improve customer service, companies have to consider the words they use and the kind of affect these words will have. People will remember how you make them feel, Yellin said, quoting the writer Maya Angelou. 

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