Your opinion: Time to throw out the IVR?

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Has the time come to throw out our IVR systems and start speaking directly to customers?

I was stuck recently when trying to call into Nationwide Building Society by the barriers that their IVR had built up.

I was greeted by a compliance message, three levels of IVR, and another message advising me that the IVR menus would soon be changing. Three key presses and 1 minute 15 seconds and two rings later I was cut straight through to a very friendly advisor who tried to upsell me a mortgage and some home insurance. And I’m not particularly going after Nationwide, calls to the Tax Office and numerous other companies have had similar results.

Contrast this to First Direct where after a short queue you are passed straight through to an advisor.

It struck me that it would benefit everyone if we were to ditch the IVR systems and connect callers straight into the queue. Nationwide would have connected me in less than 5 seconds and I might have been in a better frame of mind to be upsold to.

The other benefit would also be a lower abandon rate in the IVR. A recent reader asked what is a typical IVR abandon rate. While we have yet to find a definitive answer, I have heard rumours that it is around 13%. It seems that most call centre stats seem to exclude this key metric, which is only painting half the picture of what is happening to callers.

One leading utility company has started a project to take out their front-end IVRs or at least make it an option.

So, should we consign IVR to the scrap heap and start building an improved customer experience?

What do you think? Leave your opinions

Jonty Pearce, Editor, Call Centre Helper

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 16th Jul 2008 - Last modified: 11th Sep 2019
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  • I work for a company that has a relevently new call centre. When setting it up we made the concious decision not to have an IVR. There is nothing worse than having to navigate through a maze of messages to supposedly get through to the relevent person. We ensure that all staff are kept up to date on our services, changes within the company and who deals with what through our intranet and other means. The only messages that we have are the compliance messages and marketing messages when people are on hold. Our abandoned rate is 7 secs. I don’t think that’s too bad! Working in a B2B environment, our customers appreciate that they can talk to someone there and then.

    Donna 17 Jul at 09:59
  • I agree with Donna. I think that IVR gets in the way of building a good customer experience.

    I think that everyone has IVR because it provided the ability to do self service. Now when we think of self service we think in terms of the website.

    Doesn’t that make the IVR redundant?

    Amy 17 Jul at 11:09
  • As part of a Police call centre, where we have had to deliver a service level of 90% in 10 seconds I beleive there is a place for an IVR in order to satisfy those callers with the greatest needs.
    However, examples like the above are not the solution. Simple and subtle menu systems have massively aided us, whilst still acheiving over 95% satisfaction levels.
    Some callers like self service others do not, so I beleive it is about offering choices to callers that spread out demands.
    Many years ago people never beleived an ATM could dispense cash accurately and quickly, but ask yuorself when was the last time you queued to speaker to a person just to withdraw money from your account!

    In conclusion IVRs can help if done right but if done wrong they are more than a disaster!

    Ben Long 17 Jul at 12:35
  • We have been operating customer services systems on behalf of a client for a number of years and have never used IVR. We always endeavour to answer a call within 3 rings. Customers are so pleasantly surprised to speak directly with a person with a wide knowledge base and find it reassuring.

    Bev Humphreys 17 Jul at 12:17
  • It seems to me that the decision-making process that leads to the deployment of IVR is where we should be focused.

    So we’re talking about the people who sign the cheques, and finding out what their view is around the purpose of the contact centre, and what level of customer service the organisation is prepared to deliver.

    If the process starts with the question ‘we have this much money, what’s the most cost-effective way to deliver service to customers?(so that our shareholders are happy)’, you’ll end up with a multi-level IVR in front of an outsourced offshored contact centre. (any major telecoms companies spring to mind?)

    If the process starts with the question ‘here’s the service level we want to give our customers, here’s the customer experience that our brand requires, how do we deliver it?’ then you might end up with a much simpler IVR or no IVR.

    In the public sector and not for profit sector, the absence of a shareholder imperative is replaced with a ‘best value’ imperative, yet decision makers can still choose to prioritise the customer experience.

    So in essence it’s a simple issue – if the people who run your organisation put cost first, you’re likely to have a complex IVR. If they put customer experience first, you’ll have a simple or absent IVR.

    Which of these strategic choices will win? the jury is still out!

    MikeB 17 Jul at 17:06
  • I agree that it can cause a very poor customer experience but for some organisations I don’t suppose they can have everyone trained for every type of product.

    I called Sky the other day to buy an HD box and was directed through to a salesperson and after finishing arranging the order, I asked about my broadband connection speeds. Clearly, sales and technical aspects of two very different products isn’t something that I’d expect anyone to try and keep up to date with and I needed to be transferred.

    As consumers, we can’t have it all – we want companies to diversify and provide competative products but we’re not all superhumans and can’t be specialists in every area possible – I reckon maybe two or three at a push options of IVR are acceptable.

    Anonymous 17 Jul at 23:28
  • I have recently had a bad experience with a large provider of digital TV. Having dialled an 0870 number for their customer services dept, which you know is going to cost you a fortune, I then waited whilst they told me that the number I dialled will soon be changing before being connected to the IVR menu.

    30 minutes later and after being passed through to over 6 different departments, none of which were able to help me, I hung up highly frustrated knowing what awaited me when I eventually called back!

    Portis Head 18 Jul at 15:45
  • The key to any good IVR deployment, whether touchtone or speech based, is the design – it must be simple, intuitive and designed from the customer’s perspective. Too often, IVR menus and dialogues are designed to meet the needs of internal processes, rather than delivering what the customer wants – which is to get to the right person to deal with their issue first time!

    As more and more companies are recognising that customer service is a key differentiator, the need to provide a more personalised service is becoming important. However, in order to personalise, you need to know who is calling and why in order to route the call to the right agent. There is also the debate as to whether you train all of your agents to handle all calls, or keep specific teams of experts and route the customers to the right teams. The ultimate choice is down to your business model and how complex your products and services are, but ultmately if you cant have universal agents, you will need some way to route calls.

    Dont throw away your IVR – just give it some TLC and redesign it from your customer’s perspective! If they work well, they are a major contributor to both call centre efficiency and customer satisfaction.

    DaveL 23 Jul at 08:40
  • It’s too easy to blame the IVR for poor customer experience however there are a multitude of reasons why people do not like IVR. These include:

    1) Poorly designed IVRs – it’s unbelievable the number of IVRs out there that still confuse the caller and lock them in. It’s criminal that IVRs are allowed to be implemented like this. The technology especially the speech recognition is superb nowadays but still companies are not building intuitive systems.

    2) Don’t over automate – some companies are trying to do too much automation. IVR self-service should be meant for low-value and simple transactions such as balance enquiry or making a payment. Do not try to get too smart as these queries should be left to your agents.

    3) Legacy IVRs – in today’s multi-channel shopping and customer service environment companies need to integrate their conversations across channels so that if someone rings in then the next time they call it will be like continuing the conversation. Dynamic Multi-Channel IVR is the buzz words you should be looking for. It allows you to anticipate your caller needs when they ring into your call centre.

    4) Remember the IVR application – a lot of companies place an awful lot of emphasis on purchasing an IVR platform. Granted this software is very beneficial and allows you to have a unified communications platform to touch your customers however a lot of them come with very basic IVR application builders. The application is the most important part of an IVR, it is the customer experience, what the caller hears and how they interact with the system. Too many companies make the mistake of thinking about the IVR application as an after thought. They push it to their I.T department to build who have no experience of IVR application design or the how people should be interacting with these systems.

    It is hugely important that call centre managers look for IVR application software in addition to the platform. There is software out there that is already pre-built with best practise dialogue design in place and it’s just a matter of you changing some of the words or customising the grammar parameters to suit your requirments. These pre-built self-service IVR applications are what your callers want to be talking to. Companies such as SpeechStorm have launched a new IVR application that consists of a set of pre-built modules along with some really cool reporting, monitoring and agent features that take the hassle out of managing an IVR.

    However the problems stem much deeper than the technology. It is obvious that IVR’s have been designed very poorly over the last number of years and it is

    RH 5 Nov at 10:19