The Truth about Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

By Peter L DeHaan

IVR or Interactive Voice Response seems to be everywhere – and no one likes it!  You call a company and get a machine. Who wants that? In response to past frustration with inane IVR systems and endless levels of options, many people seek to immediately bypass the machine by pressing zero – often times, repeatedly – in an attempt to talk to a real person. Sometimes this works; other times, it does not.

If a company has no real regard for their customers, then they should tighten up their IVR system. Force callers to spend more time interacting with their IVR so that their employees spend less time interacting with callers; do everything possible to block customers from talking to their staff; and hold down costs to make their department look good. That’s fine if they have a captive customer base, operate a monopoly, or believe that it is easier to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. Otherwise, they need to listen, really listen, to what the buying public is saying, because they are right.

IVR does have its place in business, but we need to not overstate what that place is. If IVR can truly speed up the call for the customer or gather information that can assist the call center agent in providing better, more effective service, then by all means it should be used. However, when the primary goal of IVR becomes to save money, reduce the employee headcount, or limit customer service options, then it needs to be put on the scrapheap of bad ideas.

Here are my recommendations for the right way to use IVR:

IVR Dos:

  • Always, always provide an option for the caller to press 0 to talk to a person.

  • Provide short and basic options that can be readily understood by someone from outside your company.

  • Ask your customers, and even your friends, to call and test your IVR. Then fix the things that bug them.

  • Setup your company’s IVR exactly as you would want one to work when you are calling someone else.

IVR Don’ts:

  • Don’t block the digit 0. “The customer is always right” and if the customer wants to talk to a person, let them.

  • Don’t prompt for an account number if the operator is going to ask for it again.

  • Don’t have callers make entries (such for “billing”) and then not tell the call center agent which option was selected.

  • Don’t route callers to a general-purpose call center agent after you have made them take the time to tell the IVR specifically why they’re calling. Skip the subterfuge and just route the call.

  • Don’t provide level after level of long menu options; keep it simple.

  • Don’t force a mildly irritated customer through a frustratingly long and cumbersome IVR tree, because they will exit it highly irritated – and take it out your staff.

The truth is that for most companies IVR is broken and needs to be fixed. What are you going to do about it?

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