• February 1, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Hidden Sources of Poor Customer Service

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call times, and higher operating costs.

Creating and maintaining a good call center can be a challenge, but take heart in the fact that it isn't impossible. As long as companies are willing to learn from their mistakes, they can grow and improve.

The IVR Design Dilemma

It all starts with the IVR, and, at a basic level, many "IVRs are still cumbersome and poorly designed," Saulnier maintains.

To get the most out of their IVRs, businesses need to walk a fine line between taking care of their own needs and those of their customers. The key to a successful IVR, experts say, is making the system easy for consumers to use but robust enough to handle some fairly complex tasks that customers might want to accomplish.

This is where most IVR projects have fallen apart, according to Bruce Balentine, executive vice president and chief scientist at Enterprise Integration Group, an IVR technology and consulting company. Most IVRs, he said during a keynote at this summer's SpeechTEK conference in New York, "still suck" after all these years largely because "they have been designed for the enterprise and not the consumer."

This is a pervasive problem, and fixing it might not be an easy task, Hura maintains. "The perspective shift required here is both subtle and dramatic," she says, and involves asking at each step in the IVR, 'Is this helping customers get what they want?'

"At each turn in the IVR, the customer needs to feel as if he's making progress toward his goal," she continues. "To make sure this happens, sometimes entire call flows need to be revisited."

Building an efficient and effective IVR is complex and requires a deep understanding of human psychology, the business culture, and the customer life cycle. But, fundamentally, too many companies view the IVR as a gatekeeper rather than an enabler, Hura says.

IVRs, she and others contend, should do more than just route calls to the appropriate agents, but all too often they don't even do that well. A common complaint among customers is becoming locked into a standoff with the IVR and being unable to reach a live person.

Such a situation stems from the common misperception among contact center managers and customer service executives that customers don't want to use the phone or talk to a live person anymore. The majority (88 percent) of respondents to the NICE survey said they still prefer to pick up the phone and speak with a real person to resolve their issues quickly. Additionally, 64 percent of the people using smartphone apps want them to facilitate connections to live agents, according to the research.

The reality is that when an upset customer calls a contact center, she expects a personal approach to her problem from a caring agent. Throwing automation at her will make her feel less appreciated as a customer.

Despite this, consulting firm Software Advice, in evaluating the IVRs of 50 companies in the Fortune 500, found that less than a quarter of them offered the option to speak to a live agent within the top menu. The majority forced callers to wait until the third menu before 

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