Whose IVR Design Is It Anyway?

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Creating or redesigning an interactive voice response (IVR) system takes a technological village. There's the client—which sometimes includes executives from the C-level suite—plus designers, developers, quality assurance and control people, usability experts, actual users, and sometimes outside contractors and consultants. The tasks involved may not be exceedingly complicated, but dealing with other project teams may encourage employees to pull their hair out. Designers may have cool ideas, but developers say the specs can't be implemented, and consultants may not agree with either team.

Sometimes after weeks, months, or even years of pouring blood and sweat into developing an IVR, a client might decide that the initial objectives need to be changed and the whole project is torpedoed. Whether they agree with the client or not, IVR vendors may have to start from scratch. Is it possible to get everyone at the table to put their egos aside and work for the common good of the project? Yes. If you follow these suggestions, an IVR endeavor can be a much smoother ride.

Getting to Yes in the First Place

Unless it's for a new business, the majority of IVR redesigns can range from a few tweaks to restructuring several levels of the system.

"Most companies already have [an IVR]," says Susan Hura, principal of Speech Usability. "Rarely do I get a new project with a company that says, 'Come in and build us an IVR because today all of our calls go straight to the call center.'"

Kristie Goss, senior consultant of human factors, customer interaction technology, at Convergys, sees similar scenarios. "[Companies] come to us to upgrade the platform, improve the language, or change the directed dialogue into statistical modeling language," she says.

But what happens when an organization may not realize or accept that its IVR needs work, despite evidence to the contrary? Perhaps thousands of customers complain on Twitter about frustrating menus or simply zero out to connect to a contact center agent—an expensive proposition. Even if an employee is able to reach top-level executives with an IVR redesign recommendation, it might still be a tough sell.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting, has witnessed such reluctance. Organizations might justify that an IVR refresh isn’t necessary—in other words, if it's not broken, don't fix it. Meanwhile, their IVR system might be 10 to 15 years old.

"The biggest issue is that companies don’t want to spend money—that's the number one issue in the world of IVR technology," Fluss says. "They haven't even updated their grammars—I can say the word grammar and the original application doesn't even understand the word. Each year, speech recognition gets better and better. You need to keep your technology up to date."

To make a case for an IVR refresh, Fluss often tells businesses that the IVR is a "phenomenal tool. It's a way of providing support when no one is around. It's a productivity tool, and it's a great way to provide fast customer service."

Tom Hebner, senior director of professional services for user interface (UI)/user experience (UX) design at Nuance Communications, echoes those thoughts. "IVRs save money; that's what they're there for," Hebner says. "If you had to pay for a human to answer every call, a company's prices or fees would be too high. That's why automation exists."

Armed with those justifications, an organization might be willing to give the nod to an IVR redesign. Now what?

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