• September 25, 2012
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

IVRs Get a Bad Rap

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Fact: Interactive voice response (IVR) systems handle from 10 percent to more than 90 percent of incoming calls in contact centers that use them. The variability in containment rates is worth exploring, as is the fact that more than an estimated 60 percent of contact centers depend on these solutions. Contact center managers around the world would not be able to handle calls within their prescribed service level if their IVRs failed. Yet little investment is made to improve them. It doesn't make sense.

IVR solutions are almost universally disliked by customers. Most are accustomed to them and have figured out how to rapidly access the information they need or reach a live agent. As effective as IVRs are in their current state, imagine what creative managers could accomplish if they invested a little time and effort in enhancing them. If a company's containment rate were increased by just 2 percent in a contact center that handles 100,000 calls per day and already has a 40 percent automation rate, it could save an extra $12,000 per day, assuming a cost per call of six dollars.

The Problem with IVRs

The underlying issue is that IVRs are poorly managed and not kept up to date. Too many use old, dated scripts and voice user interfaces (VUIs) that probably were not highly effective even when they were first introduced. Many contact centers have not reviewed their IVR applications in more than three years. Generally, senior management does not want to spend money when the IVR is fine. But updating an IVR application could be one of the most cost-effective investments a contact center could make. This shouldn't be a one-time event; IVR performance should be assessed and the underlying application enhanced on an ongoing basis.

Most IVR solutions face similar challenges. Following is a list of common issues that can surface and be resolved with a relatively small investment in an IVR analytics solution:

1. outdated, wrong, or poorly designed options;

2. not enough options;

3. using the IVR takes too much effort on callers' part;

4. requesting multiple levels of verification;

5. asking for verification data few people have available when they call;

6. asking for unnecessary data users will not be willing to enter;

7. using the wrong speech patterns and syntax;

8. asking questions the wrong way;

9. using directed speech recognition when the application requires a natural language processing application;

10. requiring callers to use specific words;

11. not supporting multiple languages;

12. making it difficult to reach agents; and

13. when a call is transferred, not communicating with agents about what the caller already did.

Invest in Your IVR

An emerging group of analytical solutions is targeted at identifying suboptimal IVR and contact center performance. Although the abilities of these solutions vary, all can optimize IVRs by finding ways to improve how customers interact with the IVR. Some go beyond, identifying opportunities to improve the handling of any contact center interaction channel, including live agent support, Web self-service, SMS, social media, etc. All map the customer journey, from initial contact through hang-up, so businesses can analyze the transaction end-to-end and identify performance and customer satisfaction issues. (The technologies for this include recording, transcription, speech analytics, and text analytics.)

The three best-known competitors, BBN Avoke, ClickFox, and Nuance, can automate the process and provide feedback about suboptimal IVR performance on an ongoing basis.

Final Thoughts

Many customers would be happy to use an IVR if the applications were easier to use and offered better options. There is no longer an excuse for a poor IVR application. Speech recognition technology is good, and tools and services are available that can assist in identifying system issues. It will cost some money to fix your IVR, but the long-term benefits far exceed the investment.

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.

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