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IVR Hell
Bad experiences with your IVR system drive customers mad. Here's a checklist of dos and don'ts designed from a customer point of view.
For the rest of the November 2001 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Having worked in the retail industry for 11 years, my expectations for basic customer service are very high. I find myself rating the level of service I receive, whether I am at the grocery store or on the phone with a catalogue retailer. I almost pity the sales rep who has to deal with me because I expect the best. So when I am faced with an inadequate interactive voice response (IVR) system, I scrutinize it with the same intensity.

For customers, contact with a company's IVR system is the first impression they have of your overall customer service. A poor customer service experience will definitely send customers elsewhere.

Most companies see their IVR systems as a boost for business, and yes, IVR has been the saving grace for many companies. But with so many IVR options out there, who knows which one is best? Perhaps companies should evaluate a system from the customer's viewpoint, keeping these points in mind:

Keep it simple, stupid. The average person has difficulty recalling more than four menu options. Don't have nine. Economize your options. Even when adding different levels to the menu, keep those to a minimum also. If customers must come armed with a pen and paper to write down all of the menu options so that they don't forget them, they feel frustrated.

Give the opt-out option. Play fair. After all of the options have been given, customers may still have questions that can only be answered by a human being. Offer them the "press zero for the operator" option early in the game and from anywhere in the menu. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling trapped in the maze of an IVR system. Customers resort to pressing keys that take them to yet another long menu of options or the ever popular, "I'm sorry. You have made an invalid entry."

Don't waste a customer's time. Many businesses ask a customer to supply an account number through the IVR system, which customers presume will speed up the transaction process, even if they are waiting for a live agent. More often than not, this is not the case. Customers are usually asked to re-supply their account numbers once the agent picks up. Don't ask customers for arbitrary information. Have a purpose for everything you request. Some account numbers are of a sensitive nature (social security numbers or phone numbers, for example). If an agent asks for an account number, make sure the information follows throughout the re-routing process. Failure to do so makes your company look insensitive and incompetent.

Get feedback. If the goal of your company is to make customers happy, then why not ask for some feedback? Ask those who have to use the IVR system what they expect from your company. That would include both customers and customer service reps. Would they prefer to leave a phone number and receive a call back? Is there a reason why they abandoned a call? What would they like to see change? Is there something about the process or the system that they hate? Also, find out why so many callers need to speak to the live operator. It may be that the option they needed wasn't offered in the first place.

All of these questions could prove vital to the type of system you have or later implement. If the system isn't customer focused and extensively tested, then the same concerns you had yesterday will arise again tomorrow.

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