Aug 05 2017 Is The IVR Dead Or Alive?



I frequently attend the customer service trade shows and themes typically involve education on emerging technologies not yet widely adopted. For example, this year I attended several shows that focused on support for social media platforms like Facebook Messenger or Twitter.

Prior to this rising trend in customer service for social media, web and text chat took center stage as emerging technologies.

Improving the performance of customer service agents is (of course) a hot topic annually at all trade shows.

Every now and then, the old IVR channel rears its ugly head as a keynote topic, especially when a specific innovation attempts to make IVR “relevant” again. And then the question arises:

Is the IVR is alive or dead in 2016?

Well, there is some debate about that.

The IVR Is Dead!

The last time I was in Las Vegas for a trade show, I noticed that a music group from my high school days, Boyz II Men, was playing at The Mirage. I bring up this performance not to showcase my good (or bad) taste in music, but because I am about to reference one of their most famous tunes, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

No technology has driven controversy like the IVR. Most customers hate them. Most companies hate them. Why? We are relying on outdated design “best practices” (who ever came up with this term anyhow?) that might drive down costs but the design serves as the root cause for frustration and anger for our customers.

If you are still using the “menu” design of the 1990’s – that IVR is dead! The “menu” design represents reactive customer care and forces your customers to select an item via touch-tones or voice commands. No reason exists to beat around the bush here: this design is not acceptable in 2016, and nobody wants to use it!

Not much in technology from a design perspective is still around 20 years after its initial launch. Unless you have zero competition, the menu-based IVR design of the 1990s is doing nothing but driving your customers to your business rivals. If your IVR looks or sounds like this sort of menu, please hold a team meeting and allow anyone who needs to take out some frustration destroy the server on which your IVR runs.

During that retirement ceremony, remember to play Boyz II Men (or your own favorite tune from the 90s).

The IVR Is Alive!

It is possible to implement an IVR solution that your customers will actually want to use. For over a decade, I have been speaking on the trade show circuit discussing our Reduce Customer Effort strategy, which centers on three core principles:

  • Know me
  • Engage me
  • Value my time

That final item will have the largest impact on your business, whether by reducing your costs or improving a key metric like NPS.

An alternative design methodology exists that eliminates the negatives that have us all hating IVRs. Here is a quick design scenario to provide an example of the strategy:

First, when a customer calls your IVR, you need to identify them by their phone number. That goes beyond just looking into your CRM for a match; you need to utilize an external data service in the event the number is not in your backend data system (OK that last line was a shameless plug for one of the cool features of our OmniEngage product) to drive the identification close to 100%. Second, you need to predict why your customer is calling. For example, if you are a utility company, try to predict customer service questions like these:

  • Is the account past due?
  • Do they have a pending appointment for an inspection?
  • Are they in the process of starting or stopping service?
  • Is the credit card on file for autopay expired?
  • Is a field service crew chopping down tree limbs near power lines in a customer’s back yard today?
  • Were they just on your website attempting to update their account information?

Because we can predict in most cases why a customer is calling, we toss away that old reactive one-size-fits-all menu with a personalized customer experience. Listen to an example of a call that utilizes the intuitive, personalized design approach.

The intuitive IVR design predicts who is calling (know me), personalizes the experience (engage me), and brings the issue to close in under 30 seconds (value my time). The “IVR is dead” example takes 45 seconds just to have a customer hear the “outage” option on a menu.

The Verdict: IVR Is Alive and Well

If you call into your own IVR and experience the menu design described above, please consider it dead and in need of an instant update to an intuitive, personalized design. On the other hand, if your IVR is intuitive and personalizes the customer’s experience, congratulations!

Your IVR is alive and adding value to your overall customer service strategy.