Like a Circle in a Spiral
Paul English, CTO and cofounder of travel search-engine site Kayak.com, touched off a significant media and customer incident in 2005 when he unveiled on his blog the IVR Cheat Sheet, which provides shortcuts to get to live reps at various organizations. Overwhelming response forced him to launch www.gethuman.com in February 2006, a site run by volunteers that focuses on improving customer service and phone support and that also features instructions for bypassing IVRs. Unfortunately, the reasons behind customer frustration (poor design and restricted choice with automated help), remain.
Dianne Durkin, president and founder of training and consulting firm Loyalty Factor, says, "There are so many automated [queues,] the person wonders if they will ever be able to tell their story and receive a correct answer." Another source of irritation is an IVR system crafted from a company's perspective, using company jargon that customers don't understand. Moreover, requiring customers to repeat information already given through an IVR when connected to a live agent is a surefire satisfaction deflator. "The biggest mistake is not having a zero-out option" to reach a live agent, says Rosanne D'Ausilio, Ph.D., president of Human Technologies. The result? Rising costs, as more customers will be forced to contact organizations again, increasing the price to handle the inquiry. Organizations also will see an impact on their bottom line resulting from customer defection attributable to poor customer service.
But IVR systems will not simply fade away, nor should they. IVRs that deliver tight, easy prompts can efficiently and effectively allow the customer to independently handle basic inquiries, such as checking account balances. However, customers should not be forced into IVRs, says Maggie Klenke, a founding partner of The Call Center School. Klenke suggests that organizations have one phone number for the IVR system and one for a human, allowing customers to make the choice. "You have a choice at the airport; you could walk up to the kiosk to get a boarding pass, but if you'd rather stand in line and talk to a human, that is your option. If the IVR was as simple to use as the airport kiosk, then people would use them."
Most businesses note that without an IVR their costs would drastically increase. Angel.com, a provider of on-demand call center and IVR solutions, responded to English's list with its "IVR Cheat Sheet for Businesses," released in November 2005. Some tips include: keeping the user interface simple; not hiding the option to speak to an agent; not making callers repeat information; and giving callers the option to use touch tone or speech recognition.
"Many companies don't realize that speech technology has made significant strides in consumer adoption over the past few years, and there are voice self-service options that are far more efficient than touch tone technology," says Azita Martin, vice president of marketing at TuVox. Speech recognition must continue to deal with its own issues, such as improving its ability to recognize accents and colloquialisms.
Still, there are companies like American Airlines that have sound IVR deployments, according to D'Ausilio, who simply requests an agent if she needs one.
But until more companies make their IVR systems simpler and easy to use, English will have more companies to add to his infamous list. "Call centers have to gather data and pass it through the rest of the organization where the problems can actually be fixed," Klenke says. "Then the people won't call and the cost will go away. It's not a matter of minimizing it, it's a matter of eliminating it."