It’s Time Your IVR System Got a Second Chance

It’s Time Your IVR System Got a Second Chance

In a recent post, I said that a good IVR system is more than a barrier to live agents. It’s the reason callers don’t need a live agent.

It’s a simple idea; if your IVR works well, people won’t mind using it.

But there’s a problem; a lot of consumers aren’t ready to give IVR another chance. They’ve been burnt before.

So how will you get callers to engage with this most vital tool?
One call to a live agent costs more than seven IVR calls


How do I sneak past your IVR system?

It’s probably the most common complaint you hear about IVR – that its only job is keeping callers away from agents.

And it’s partially true. There’s a huge business benefit when fewer calls reach live agents.

But the general public isn’t interested in business benefit. 10% of calls to UK call centers are ‘zeroed out’ – rejected in favor of a human; in the US the number is even higher. We’ve reached the point where callers consistently get faster service from IVR, but uptake is still fairly low.

So, IVR is often pretty good now. Who’s going to tell the callers?

Sell the benefits of your IVR system

Problem – not enough callers use your IVR

Reason – they don’t believe it can help them

Solution – set them straight

I know, it seems too simple. But I’m always amazed that inbound call centers don’t explain, in a straightforward and honest way, why you should use their IVR.

What do I have in mind? The first thing to do is give customers a choice between IVR and a human agent. Now, I know that might seem counter-productive. But remember, part of the negative image we’re trying to tackle is that IVR is a barrier, rather than a good option.

So – when your caller comes through, try a simple message along these lines: ‘Hi, welcome to <business name>. I can help you reach a human advisor as soon as someone is available. But it will probably be much quicker if I help you myself. Is that ok?’

This achieves a few simple (but valuable) things:

  • It gives callers the option to hold for an agent, so you don’t look like you’re trying to trap them.
  • It turns a negative (long wait times) into a positive (fast IVR service).
  • It opens a dialogue with the question ‘is that ok?’. Whether you then request the  actual response as natural language or dtmf hardly matters – dialogue is how you steer customers in the right direction. Ask any great salesperson you know if they speak with their leads or speak at them.

In the last year, 67% of customers hung up in frustration when they couldn’t reach an agent.  The really mad thing is that a lot of the call centers will look at that (through some narrow metrics) and see success.

Bonus tip #1

Think very hard before telling callers to visit your website. The call center is rarely responsible for maintaining online FAQs; are you endorsing something that’s beyond your control? 57% of callers to customer support lines have already tried the website but did not find an answer. 

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer a well-designed switch to a website or app, using SMS or other messaging from IVR. Measuring this as part of the overall customer self-service journey will tell you a lot about the options your customers find useful.

73% of customers want the ability to solve their own product and service issues

Help your IVR to help customers

Of course, you can’t sell the benefits of your IVR system if there are no benefits.

You basically want IVR to be like another agent. That means integration – giving them access to the same systems.

That hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do. In fact, integration across different systems is the single biggest obstacle preventing call centers getting the most from their investments

You’ll need to do some research into the best integration strategy, probably using APIs to share data easily. But really, what’s the alternative? Continue with bad IVR?

Bonus tip #2

Call centers are inconsistent about whether they think of IVR as self-service. But it definitely is self-service – so why not advertise it as such wherever you promote contact options? Three-quarters of millennials – now the largest demographic – prefer to solve their own issues

66% of call centers have no options to transfer from self-service to a live agent

What’s in a name?

If your IVR system were a person, where would it buy groceries? How educated is your IVR? What are its hobbies? Are these questions insane?

Back in the early 2000s we saw quite a few IVRs with names and identities. Do you remember Emily at Bell Canada? Claire at Sprint? What about Jenni McDermott at Yahoo?

All three had names and backstories. Jenni had a boyfriend, an art history degree and a dog called Brindle. Where are they now? Mostly, the scrapheap of telecoms history.

So… what’s the lesson then? Don’t name your IVR system?

Not quite. In fact, a lot of IVR professionals recommend a name and all the other detail that goes into creating an ‘IVR persona’.

The IVR sets a tone for the company, just like a website or advertising. The voice portal, Web and advertising personae have to come back to the tone of the company and how it wants to project itself. A persona is not a name but an overall tone.’

Marie Jackson, SpeechTechMag 

It’s a simple (and effective) idea. Your IVR system represents your brand; it’s a sort of ideal employee. So you should have a pretty clear idea of, well… what sort of person it is. After all, it’s going to interact with more customers than any human member of staff.

The mistake at Bell, Sprint, Yahoo and others wasn’t creating a persona – it was making the persona superficial. We’re not talking about a marketing tool. Users don’t care about your made-up backstory. This is a design tool, a guide for creating IVR interactions that suit customers.

Don’t think ‘name’, think ‘tone’.

Bonus tip #3

I’ll say it again – don’t try to trap your customers in the service option that’s best for you. 66% of call centers provide no option for customers to switch from self-service to a live agent. That’s a short-term saving, made at a long-term cost – customers who just hate dealing with you. 

Think about the other channel options you can offer, and how easy it is to switch between them. If you can provide a path between IVR, web self-service, SMS and other messaging, customer will use it.

Change when you need to change

I’ll let you decide if these two facts are linked:

Never? Never? Flexibility in your communication solutions – in your whole approach to customer service – is surely one of the biggest predictors of success.

I don’t think we need to stress this point, do we? Even if your call center process were perfect when you created them (they weren’t) no process stays perfect forever.

Revisit every part of the customer experience as often as you can – especially the IVR, which has such potential to do good. No-Code tools are the best way to change whatever you need to, whenever you need to. 

For a lot of call centers, IVR is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But however much you coach agents, improve processes and invest in new tools, IVR is how you make your first impression so make it count!

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