The Cross-Channel Experience Challenges the IVR

NEW YORK (SpeechTEK 2012)-If there's one message that came through loud and clear during several SpeechTEK sessions, it's that there's a lot of room for improvement in providing a good customer experience.

The customer experience track kicked off with some unsurprising news: customers overwhelmingly hate IVRs. According to a survey that was released at the conference by Interactions, more than eight in 10 consumers (83 percent) said that they would avoid a company or stop giving it business if they had a poor experience with an IVR. More than 70 percent indicated that they would share their negative IVR experiences not just with the company itself, but also with friends and family through word of mouth, and more increasingly, social media.

Despite the fear and loathing associated with IVRs, all is not lost with providing a positive customer experience; the good news is that people are growing increasingly confident with new media platforms.

"As those technologies start to emerge and people get more familiar with them, you're going to probably see IVR rank down at the bottom relative to those [options]," said Phil Gray, executive vice president of marketing and business development at Interactions.

Tobias Goebel, senior solutions engineer at Voxeo, sees positives in providing a cross-channel customer experience. "There's a couple of things that I think are being done right, such as slowly adding more channels, like a chat option on Web sites. I've hardly come across a Web site anymore that doesn't offer chat."

Jamey White, a senior VUI designer at Convergys, says he's seen examples of good cross-channel experiences. "I think where we're getting it right is in identifying what channels exist today and recognizing the new ones as they emerge," he said. "One of the newest that you certainly need to consider is social media as a new channel and watching companies as they develop new policies toward recognizing social media and how they're going to angle that to cross-channel pollination."

However, both Goebel and White said companies are falling short in consolidating channels and providing an interface to give the customer the same experience regardless of the channel, and also in tracking what they're doing on those channels.

"One of the reoccurring things you're going to hear is about data siloes or data islands where different divisions within companies have their own agendas and their own policies, and a lot of times those aren't shared within an organization," White said. "But from a customer's perspective, regardless of what channel they use or how many channels they go across, to the customer it's all one experience. If there's roadblocks between the channels, that tends to get very frustrating. Breaking the walls down between the siloes is definitely one thing that companies can do better.

Daniel Ziv, vice president of voice of the customer analytics at Verint agrees.  "I don't think [improving the customer experience] is an IVR-specific issue," he says. "Where we have seen better implementations is where you're looking at collecting insights from all the different channels and using that to optimize the results. If you're focused independently on one channel without taking into account other channels, it's very difficult to get it right. If you're trying to build and tune an IVR based only on the data you have from the IVR, it's difficult." 

One remedy is to have a platform that is able to unify the data that has been collected from all the different channels and departments to achieve the same view.

Another solution is to implement changes from the top down, starting at the C-level.

"More chief customer officers may start to emerge," White said. "Or some data governance group --- these can sit above the siloes and have the ability to make the decisions to force these different divisions to work together to promote cross channel interaction."

The bottom line is that companies need to provide a seamless interactive dialogue no matter what channel a customer chooses.

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