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Changing Negative Perceptions About IVR

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology has been around for more than 20 years and has shown that it can save companies time and money. But unfortunately, these automated systems are often viewed negatively by customers, hindering their experience and perception of the company. While this is typically due to poor implementation, it can also be a result of outdated, legacy technology and a slow moving industry. Additionally, because IVR systems were designed from an operational point-of-view rather than from the customer’s, its key purpose was to cut costs—not make the customers’ lives easier.

Although this worked for companies back in the 90s, today’s customer demands more from companies and has an amplified voice with social media when something goes wrong. In fact, 33 percent of customers have used social media to ask a customer service question and 56 percent have higher expectations for customer service today than they had a year ago. As a result, companies are realizing that their technology and processes need to be designed with the customer in mind or they risk losing business.

When it comes to IVRs, companies must first understand why customers tend to have a negative perception of the technology. Then, they can take the necessary steps to improve the technology or internal processes. Below are three of the biggest issues I’ve noticed that you should pay attention to:

  • The technology lacks intuitiveness and offers limited options. Similar to a flow chart, IVRs route customers based on the information that’s provided. However, because customer interactions are becoming more and more complex, IVR systems aren’t always able to provide customers with the answers they need or route them to the correct service agent. Instead, the customer feels as if they’re stuck in IVR jail and are going around in circles.
  • The IVR doesn’t carry over data from the machine to the agent. This can cause the customer to repeat their name, account or social security number, the reason for calling, etc. If companies don’t add the capability for IVRs to accurately relay this information, the customer feels as if they’ve wasted their time at the beginning of the call. It also causes the company to appear disconnected.
  • It’s no surprise that customers do not like to wait on hold. In fact, nearly 60 percent believe that one-minute is too long to wait for an agent. For companies that have a high volume of inbound calls, this is simply impossible. This becomes an even bigger problem when customers are on hold for long periods of time and the IVR continuously repeats that the company values their call. While it’s meant to validate that the customer is important to the company, it can come across as condescending.

If you’ve ever called customer service before, you can probably relate to one of the above pain points. However, even though IVRs have a bad reputation they’re not going away any time soon. The technology was created to collect basic customer information and reduce the number of calls for service agents, and when implemented properly it does just that. While digital and social media have opened new lines of communications between companies and customers, phone calls still remain the number one channel for issues, especially now that complexity of agent assisted transactions are increasing.

To help you improve customer service with IVRs and change the negative perception of the technology, consider the following ways you can use automated systems effectively:   

  • Make it easy for customers to talk to agents. Instead of having your IVR list out every option for the customer to choose from, pick three to five of the most common reasons customers call for help. IVRs were designed to simplify the service call process, and when you give customers too many options it becomes complicated. By reducing the number of options and making it easier for customers to speak with an agent, they’re more likely to get their question answered faster.
  • Have your IVR collect repetitive and transactional information. Then enable an elegant handoff with the customer service agent. When IVRs are deployed properly, information can be passed from the machine to the right agent quickly and efficiently. This will save the agent time at the beginning of the call and provides them with the data they need to answer the customer’s question. In addition, it speeds up the call and makes your company look smarter and more connected. With the average customer connecting with organizations across four different channels on a regular basis, it’s imperative that companies develop Omnichannel capabilities – a seamless experience across devices, applications and interactions – that allow for the smooth handoff of information.
  • Make callbacks an option, especially during peak times. This helps lower customer abandon rates, reduces agent idle time and saves the company money. It also gives the customer freedom to work on other activities and have the opportunity for the company to call them back when it’s convenient for them, validating that the company values their time and business.  

The companies with the best customer service reputations are the ones that look at technology and processes through the eyes of the customer and not from an operational standpoint. Rather than using IVR technology the way companies did 20 years ago, you need to understand its role in the modern era and use this tool judiciously to empower agents with more time and data than before. By recognizing its purpose and capabilities, you’ll be one step closer to using the technology correctly and changing customers’ perceptions of the tool and possibly, your company.