I know why companies use IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems: They’re cheap. And there’s a lot to be said for trimming costs and looking for operational efficiencies. But p-l-e-a-s-e don’t try to sandbag customers, shareholders or anyone else with claims that IVR provides a better customer experience. It provides a less-expensive means of handling the customer experience. Period.
Never forget, moreover, that this is a branded experience. That is, when companies banish their customers (not to mention prospective customers) to the IVR labyrinth, this is yet another customer experience or touchpoint representing the brand. Companies would be wise, as such, to be certain that the “IVR experience” is the type of interaction they want to represent them. At the very least, the company should carefully evaluate and be certain that the cost savings are sufficient to more than offset the potential hit to their brand.
The reality is that IVR systems offer an experience that is about as pleasant as an appendectomy without anesthesia. Think of all of the times you have pounded the “O” key, hit random key sequences, or screamed expletives at a synthesized voice, imploring them to understand you and route you to a live person. Forget WikiLeaks: the true heroes of the consumer are those who post online the phone numbers or sequence codes you can use to reach live people or specified departments.
I have never – repeat NEVER – had a pleasant “IVR experience.” And I have never heard anyone tell me that they have enjoyed an IVR experience. If you have (and aren’t a rep or tech for a company pushing IVR), please let me know.
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It’s bad enough that callers must endure the perennial lies (“We are experiencing higher than normal call volumes so your wait time may be longer than usual” or “Please listen to all of the options as our menu has recently changed”), but why compound the lie with the pretense of a better service experience? Don’t pretend that this is “so we can serve you better.” Consumers hear that from all corners, ranging from their bank and healthcare providers to their cable and mobile companies. Tell the truth: “We use IVR so we can serve you more efficiently and less expensively.”
I long for the day when I get an honest IVR intro:
To control costs and remain competitive we can’t afford to have a live person answer the phone any longer. We had to fire Betsy and her staff and replace them with this system to route your calls. Yes, we know it is a far from pleasant experience, but it’s the best we can do. Besides, everyone else does it. So we hope this works without causing you too much “agita” or inconvenience. If not, at least rest assured that we are saving money, some of which we are passing on to you in the form of not increasing prices. Now, in a few words, please tell us why you called?
And every company that automatically disconnects callers when they hammer on the “O” key rather than permit customers to speak to a live person should be subject to 10 years of IRS audits and social media hate mail.
Using IVR for Surveys
It is only a short step from using IVR to disseminate information to using IVR to collect information. Again, costs are super-cheap, which always is attractive. What you can collect, of course, is inherently limited by the medium. A few simple questions and perhaps a comment. One to two minutes max. (Mea culpa: I have gone this route once or twice in the past.)
But companies should be careful to make certain that an IVR survey is the “right” experience. Client-sponsored surveys represent the brand and should convey an impression or image of the company. Yes, we want the best, most objective measurement (and IVR reduces interviewer bias, for example). But the larger objective is that of what’s good for business. Can a survey experience that reflects poorly on the sponsor ever be advantageous for the business, even if it is a low-cost means of data collection?
Asking a customer to complete a survey is asking them for a favor. Even if a company uses IVR for routing in-bound calls and handling service inquiries, surveys are an intrusion of some sort. While the objective of the survey is data collection, surveys leave an impression on respondents – and companies need to pay attention to that impression.
What amazes me is when firms use IVR for their customer experience surveys without thinking about any potentially adverse effects and minimizing the likelihood of such effects. The idea of using the least enjoyable type of experience (that is, IVR) as the medium through which to ask customers about the caliber of a company’s experience always should be subject to extra scrutiny. Sure, it’s tempting to use IVR as a near-immediate (and cheap, of course) mechanism for feedback following a call-center interaction, for example. But be careful, as a customer who is disgruntled by a call center experience may become infuriated by an IVR experience that compounds the problem.
“The medium is the message.” In other words, how a company conveys the information (or the survey) is inseparable from the information itself. So think about the medium, know its limitations and issues, and make certain it reflects back upon the company the impression that you want to convey. This applies to any sponsor-identified surveys, whether with live interviewers, online, mobile or via any other mode as well.
For me, I can’t wait until I receive an IVR survey asking me about a previous IVR experience. Perhaps I’ll even install an IVR system in my home to screen for and handle IVR surveys.