Want a more effective interactive voice response system? Here, 10 do's and don'ts.
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A poorly designed IVR can frustrate and annoy its callers--and it's increasingly apparent that a bad IVR-customer experience can make an otherwise loyal customer question his loyalty. So what can a company do to minimize user frustration and keep its IVR users coming back for more self-service? Here are a few rules of thumb that can help prevent customer loss:
1. Consider the user's motivation posture. IVR designers need to determine just how motivated users are likely to be to complete each task that the system is intended to automate. For example, would a person simply seeking to obtain a bank balance willingly and happily answer a series of 10 questions first in order to do so? Probably not. Only automate tasks that are easy to accomplish. Customers will gladly use IVR if doing so will enable them to complete their task more comfortably and efficiently than would talking with a person.
2. Concentrate on tasks that users would prefer to complete without talking to a human. For example, callers wishing to make late payments, seeking to refill an embarrassing prescription, or seeking insurance information about an embarrassing medical condition might prefer to interact with a machine before discussing the particulars with a stranger over the phone.
3. Design for the majority and transfer the minority. Most IVRs attempt to support too many features. Find out what most callers call to do, and automate only those three or four tasks. For the minority of callers who need to do something other than those three or four things, get them quickly to a CSR. Keep it simple and give callers what they want.
4. Minimize menus. Every menu state in an IVR system represents another opportunity for something to go wrong. Deep menu structures make the overall system complicated and confusing. Even worse, they obscure the few tasks that most users voluntarily seek to complete. Try to automate tasks that do not require cascading trees of menus.
5. Do not waste the caller's time with any prompts or prompt content that is not demonstrably necessary to complete a task. Avoid jargon, legalese, persona chat, excessive suggestions as to what to do or say, help systems, and IVR cliches ("Your call is important to us..."). Customers will appreciate it.
6. Tolerate faults gracefully. It is shocking how many IVR systems actively castigate their users when they make a mistake. Never scold or punish a user. Use reprompts that quickly help get the user back on track.
7. Do not pretend to be able to interact in a natural language dialogue. Current speech recognition technology cannot support conversational or natural language dialogue. Pretending to be able to be conversationally competent only sets unrealistic user expectations for speech technologies and invariably leads to greater user errors.
8. Avoid anthropomorphism. Limit or eliminate the use of the first person singular ("I"). Don't feign concern or sincerity. Don't excessively apologize. Users see through machines that "feel their pain."
9. Don't attempt to entertain the user with animated personae. Regardless of the importance our culture puts on entertainment, users are seldom entertained by animated personae. In fact, they are often annoyed by them and their annoyance escalates as a function of repeated exposure.
10. Adopt a punt strategy. If a caller is having difficulties, by definition the system is not serving his needs. Make it easy to get to a person and always use CTI to avoid asking customers to repeat information they have already provided to the system.
Walter Rolandi is a doctoral-level human factors professional specializing in voice-user interfaces. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-803-252-9995.
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