The Masses are Right about IVR

By Peter DeHaan

I once read an article whose title espoused the opposite perspective of this post. Perhaps you saw it too. I began reading it, in eager expectation of an enlightening and insightful discourse on the use of IVR (Interactive Voice Response) in the call center. I was soon to be disappointed.

Essentially, the author asserted that the masses (code for “customers”) are selfish and shortsighted when they attempt to bypass IVR systems to talk to an agent. Doing so, which he likened to fraud, causes call center costs to go up, thereby resulting in higher priced goods and services.

If a call center is a cost center for their company – one that has no real regard for their customers – then yes, tighten up the IVR. Force callers to spend more time interacting with IVR so that agents can spend less time interacting with them; do everything possible to block callers from talking to your reps; and hold down costs to make the call center look good. That works if you have a captive customer base, operate a monopoly, or find it easier to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. Otherwise, we need to listen, really listen, to what the masses are saying — because they are right.

IVR has its place in the call center, 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 agent in providing better, more effective service, then use it. However, when the primary goal of IVR becomes to save money, reduce the agent 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 in your call center:

IVR Dos:

  • Always, always provide an option for the caller to press 0 to talk to an agent.
  • 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 call center’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, then let them.
  • Don’t prompt for an account number if the agent is going to ask for it again.
  • Don’t have callers make entries (such for “billing”) and then not tell the rep which option has selected.
  • Don’t route callers to a general agent queue 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 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 on the agent.

Yes, the masses are right about IVR. In most call centers, IVR is broken and needs to be fixed. What are you going to do about it?

[Posted by Peter DeHaan for Connections Magazine, a contact center publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]

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