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“For a Happy Customer, Please Press 1”
How interactive voice response helps CRM.
Posted Mar 24, 2010
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We've all been there -- it's midnight and you realize you need to pay a bill, find out what time a store opens or check the status of an order. There was a time when you'd have to tie a string to your finger to remember to call the next day during "regular business hours." But no longer.

Interactive voice response (IVR) has created a 24/7/365 contact center agent who doesn't take breaks, works every holiday and can help multiple customers at a time -- without any payroll. By integrating IVR effectively with your CRM tool, not only can you improve the quality of your customer interactions but also lower overhead by reducing the number of calls received by your agents as well as reducing agent burnout that often occurs when handling menial calls. Newer, on-demand IVR systems reduce costs even further by eliminating the need to purchase, configure and maintain expensive hardware and telephone circuits.

Before you implement self-service IVR, however, there are a few tips for optimizing the project and avoiding common pitfalls.

  1. DO create an IVR road map that prioritizes your targets - typically whatever is causing your contact center the most pain, or the simplest project that will produce results - and proceed one step at a time. 

    For example, one Internet service provider had big plans for IVR. The first step was to implement a simple IVR process informing customers when there was an outage in their zip code. With that little piece of functionality, callers could quickly determine whether they simply needed to wait for a regional issue to be resolved or had a service issue that needed to be addressed with a service rep. It was the simplest item on their IVR implementation list, yet one that solved a major customer headache while saving hundreds of agent hours.

  2. DON'T expect IVR to solve every issue. Some things are just too complex and unwieldy to implement economically and effectively. These projects can wind up costing a lot to implement while causing customer dissatisfaction - exactly the opposite of the IVR objective.

    That was the case with one inbound sales contact center that tried to put their product inventory in their IVR system. They went to a lot of trouble, and actually got it working. But they discovered that the number of products and required IVR choices was frustrating to callers. Without an agent to help, callers abandoned the effort and sales slackened. Customers wanted to quickly and easily check stock on a product, and the IVR system didn't meet their needs.

  3. DO offer IVR for simple customer interactions such as bill pay, account balance, order status, or inquiring about the time of a service call. Customers expect a self-service option for these kinds of processes, and if you don't have it, they may take their business elsewhere.
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  4. DO make sure that your IVR process folds into your current processes. You don't want to have an IVR project that creates additional overhead on the back end.

    For example, a company that implemented a new IVR payment system utilized a unique integration to their customer accounting system. Although it worked, payments didn't post along the same timeline. When customer's checked to see that the payment had posted online, they panicked because of the time delay in posting. This caused confusion and call volumes to escalate. Then agents had to learn two distinct processes to mollify anxious callers. The IVR added more work instead of reducing agent hours.

  5. DON'T try to re-invent your processes at the same time as implementing your IVR system. You'll overwhelm yourself and your resources.
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  6. DON'T think you have to walk the self-service IVR path alone. Most IVR companies will offer their professional services team to ensure you don't get caught in any of these traps.
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  7. DO consider using hosted and SaaS ACD and IVR providers. With a measured, incremental approach, it's a competitive advantage to add this functionality without the capital expense and IT commitment of a traditional hardware approach.

At the end of the day, your IVR is about making your customers happy and relieving your live agents -- in that order. That makes it an integral component of your customer relationship management strategy. The technology is not new, but it's more important than ever to provide premier customer service as well as drive contact center efficiencies.

About the Author

David Facer (david.facer@inContact.com) is a senior product manager at inContact, a leading cloud-based provider of contact center solutions.

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Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the March 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

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