Creating an IVR Solution? Answer These 4 Questions First

Have you ever tried to call an airport to get a ticket refund? It's a nightmare of press 1 for so-and-so and press 2 for such-and-such. By the time you've mashed your way through eight gauntlets of touch commands, you end up in one of two places: a voice machine saying "leave a message" or "call back later,” or an agent who still has no idea who you are, where you are calling from, and why. You may be asking what kind of sadistic monster would create such a telephone labyrinth. The sad truth is that many companies present similar IVR experiences simply because they misunderstand the proper way to use the technology. 

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems can be amazing tools that really transform your business. But there are some considerations you should make before throwing together a random touchtone/voice response directory:

1. Do you know your IVR's audience? Who calls your company and for what reason? It's worth taking note.

If you are a bill collection company, perhaps the bulk of your callers are calling about their account balance. If you are a retailer, maybe the majority of your callers are looking for shipping information.

Based on your audience, you should be able to anticipate common caller questions and craft your IVR to respond. Common issues/reasons for calling should be addressed first. The IVR choices should be clear and concise and present either a direct resolution or an immediate connect with an appropriate representative. Automated responses should be used to quickly field the easy answers (e.g., account balance, package delivery) that don't require a live agent.

The worst thing you can do is string your customers down a confusing multilayered touch/voice response. Nail down the proper verbiage to guide your callers. If constructed properly, the IVR will reduce your call load by answering FAQs automatically or expedite callers to the right agent for a faster resolution.

A dynamic IVR can allow for an even smarter resolution. When crafting your IVR, consider creating rules for callers. Instead of giving every caller the same choices, you can craft your IVR to recognize numbers, evaluate open cases associated and provide tailored interactions (e.g., you have reported an issue, you recently purchased X product, you are coming up for renewal, your account balance is overdrawn, etc.).

2. Can you get callers to a real person quickly, if that's what they need? People typically call to talk to a person, not a robot. Get them to the right person or answer as fast as possible. Again, keep your IVR bare bones. It should quickly collect data on who is calling and from where and have that information primed to transfer to appropriate agents.

Don't try to answer every question in automation, just the most common questions. The IVR will reduce the call load but not eliminate it. If your customers have to spend 10 minutes navigating 100-plus possible selections, the tool has lost its convenience factor.

3. Have you considered all possible complications? Lay the groundwork to answer the easy questions, but be prepared for the tough questions and make sure your agents are armed with answers. Without considering all potential issues, you risk meeting your customers with these four dreaded words: "Let me transfer you." Other variations include "please hold"; "let me get my manager"; "I don't know"; and "do you mind if we call you back?" 

4. Is your system flexible? Busy tones are annoying, especially if you just spent a few minutes telling the phone system what you're looking for. Make sure your contact centers are staffed to handle higher call volumes during your busy seasons, and adjust your IVRs based on promotional or situational occurrences.

Are you an accountant entering tax season? Set your IVR to address the tax questions first.

Did you recently have a product recall? Make sure there is an option to address product replacement and refunds.

It is important to have the ability to change your IVR quickly to manage immediate customer situations. As a personal example, our client Wowcher (a daily deal site) once had an offer on dolls that became immensely popular. The dolls sold out in one hour, but the phone lines were still flooded with thousands of callers. With a quick adjustment to the IVR, we added the option, "If you are calling about XYZ dolls, please press 1." This deflected calls to an automated message explaining the shortage and cleared queues for other callers.

In the end, an IVR is a tool to simplify your customer service. Make sure that if you are employing the technology, it's actually helping your customers rather than hurting them. Do not use the IVR as an excuse to provide slack customer care. Audit your system regularly and make adjustments to improve your customer satisfaction.


Tim Pickard is the senior vice president of marketing at NewVoiceMedia. Pickard joined NewVoiceMedia in July 2011 with more than 20 years of experience as a leader in the IT industry. He served as vice president and board member of RSA Security's international business for seven years, where he ran marketing in EMEA, Asia Pacific, and Japan. He spent two years as chief marketing officer for SaaS/cloud-based email management provider Mimecast.

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