Is Your IVR a Customer Retention Engine, or Is It Driving Customers Away?

From brand image to bottom line, customer experience can impact your business faster now than at any time in history. Customer experience stories—both good and bad—can spread all over the world in no time, thanks to social media. Every interaction with a customer is critical, because you never know which experience story could suddenly go viral and affect millions of prospects.

Many enterprises have already learned that the contact center is a critical, high-volume interaction point, where investments to improve the customer experience can really pay off. A good number of these investments are focused on improving the experience delivered by contact center agents. For example, when a customer interaction with an agent doesn't go well, you pull a recording of the call and coach the agent to do better next time. Improving the customer experience during interactions with agents is an ongoing "hands-on" endeavor.

But your IVR can have an impact on customer experience that is equally significant to that of your agents—sometimes even more so, because that critical "first impression" of your contact center is shaped by the caller's experience in the IVR. So if you want to effectively manage and improve the customer experience in your contact center, you're going to have to "coach" your IVR as well as your agents.

Coaching an IVR may sound strange, but in principle it's not much different from coaching agents. You measure, collecting a lot of performance data; you analyze, using the data to identify areas of improvement; and you improve, implementing a process to make sure those improvements are implemented. Unfortunately, most enterprises take a very narrow approach to collecting the data they need to properly understand customer experience in their IVR. This makes it hard to identify opportunities to improve, and even harder to predict the results any given improvement might achieve.

Forrester's Adele Sage, in a paper titled "Top Ways to Improve Phone Self-Service Experience," noted that most call centers focus primarily on measuring automation and containment rates, which may not be enough to reflect the true impact of an IVR on customer experience. By collecting the right data to benchmark and analyze your IVR, you can make more informed decisions that will more effectively optimize the system, as well as your business results.

To do this, you first need to properly measure customer experience in your IVR so you know where you stand and whether your future improvements are effective. Broaden your perspective and develop a rating system that measures customer intent, interaction, and perception:

Intent: The caller's reason for using the system, Intent is measured using post-IVR and post-agent surveys, as well as a variety of detailed reports.

Interaction: The specific steps or actions taken by callers in an effort to complete goals. Interaction is measured and evaluated using system-performance reports, actionable summaries, best practices, and expert analysis.

Perception: The emotional value a caller places on the ease and efficiency with which goals were accomplished, Perception is evaluated using post-IVR and post-agent surveys.

Surveys Alone Are Not the Answer

Most enterprises use post-agent surveys to measure customer satisfaction. These are an essential component of any customer experience measurement, but surveys focus only on the customer's perception of the service received. If you want to improve perceptions, you must understand in great detail the reality underlying them. Surveys alone can't do that for you. They must be combined with a mountain of IVR performance data from the actual calls. This is where effective analytics can extract the necessary information from the call data so you can measure intent and interaction to get a true picture of the caller experience.

So what do you measure? Everyone is familiar with the two most common IVR performance factors: average time in the IVR and transfer rate. While these may be indicators of IVR performance, they won't tell you enough.

It may seem daunting, but you will need to capture much more data to truly manage and improve your customer experience rating. This can come from standard reports, such as goal/task completion details, call record data, computer telephony interface (CTI) details, and checkpoint reports. Truly cutting-edge organizations also will glean caller interaction data from behavioral reports, which identify expert and novice users of the IVR. This information provides even more insight into the journey of your customer. To find out how your IVR is performing from your customers' perspective, you must combine all of this data and ask the right types of questions as you analyze it.

For example, to analyze the caller's reason for using the system, you might consider using goal/task-specific reports, exit point reports, and checkpoint reports. Evaluate this data against caller survey data and caller interaction behavior, and you'll get a much sharper picture of caller experience than by measuring just containment and transfer rates. It's important to understand caller behavior, patterns, and usage rates to drive lasting improvements to customer experience.

By asking the right types of questions of your system and callers, and capturing and analyzing operational data, you will not only get a truer picture of the experience within the IVR, but additionally, the analytical information will provide the visibility needed to track down and fix issues that impact customer experience in your IVR.

When you are able to measure the right data, analyze it, and improve the problem areas you uncover in a systematic and predictable way, you will have arrived. You will get a firm handle on managing customer experience in your IVR and catapult yourself above industry averages so you can enjoy the benefits of providing a great customer experience—both for your brand image and your bottom line.

Justin Lemrow is the director of continuous improvement at Contact Solutions, managing the practice that focuses on two core objectives: increasing customer satisfaction and automating more transactions across customer solutions. He has more than a decade of process improvement experience in the telecommunications and technology sector, leveraging consulting experience at Accenture and driving operational efficiency at Sprint-Nextel.

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