The Seven Deadly Sins of IVR

The sales pitch for interactive voice response (IVR) is very compelling – being able to offer 24-hour service to customers without human intervention. However, a large number of IVR applications fail to work well. Jonty Pearce looks at seven of the greatest sins!

1. No option to speak to a person

The biggest trap is that IVR entices the unwary into the lure of being able to provide service to the customer with no human intervention. IVR vendors are often guilty of selling this offering. While IVR can be of great help, providing a self-service facility to regular customers, it is not the complete panacea. IVR works best in two areas – playing options to route calls to the best agent group and self-service to a closed group of frequent callers. Automating beyond this level can often be counterproductive with poor customer service and less than expected take-up. Even worse, is to use an IVR to answer a sales line. I never fail to be amazed at how many companies greet a sales opportunity with a pre-recorded voice!

2. Poor or no hand off to an agent

A frequent trap is not allowing people to connect to an agent. Cost is often the reason given for this. For example, a well-known mobile phone company publishes a number to call if you have questions with your bill. But, it does not allow the option to transfer the call to an agent to discuss the problem. When transferring to an agent the customer details should be transferred with the call. It is bad customer service to ask for the same details again.

3. Poor menu prompt structure

This is widespread. The golden rule states that you should never have more than five options on a voice menu. There should also be no more than two levels of menu. This should be treated as an absolute maximum. Personal experience has shown that the most successful menus have just three options.

4. Recording Messages

A poor voice recording has ruined many a good IVR application. A good example is a frequent flyer application that speaks in a calm voice, “Your account balance is” followed by a gruff speaking voice barking, “eight thousand two hundred and ten.” A common mistake has been to use the telephone handset to record announcements rather than a professional recording studio. This can result in inconsistent volume levels as well as poorer speech quality. Recording studios are able to smooth out volume levels and provide the correct frequency profile to match the telephone rather than stereo quality.

5. Voice Recognition Accuracy

Voice recognition is a very powerful technology, but it is not a panacea. It claims 95% accuracy, but this is frequently on a single command. Mobile phone users can find difficulty using the service. For some users, it simply fails to work at all. It should be used with care and works best to a closed user group. After two voice recognition attempts the caller should be connected to a live agent.

6. Taking too long for frequent users

A new user to the system needs clear instructions on how to use the system. It is also important that frequent users can enter information as quickly as possible. Most IVR systems allow type ahead, sometimes called cut through, that allows users to enter data while the voice command is being spoken. So a frequent user would not have to wait until the end of “Please enter your account number followed by hash, or wait on the line to be connected to an operator. BEEP”, but could enter the account number in the middle of the sentence.

7. Insufficient testing

So, all that trouble has gone into developing the IVR application. Was it first introduced to a small group of internal customers to iron out any problems? All too often the answer is no. This would have sorted out all the previous sins before they caused any lasting damage!

Published On: 10th Nov 2005 - Last modified: 11th Sep 2019
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