Next Generation IVR Self-Service

We all know that self-service will continue a migration to the mobile and social channels as smartphones, technology, and the millennial generation push the change. However, the phone channel will not disappear in the coming decades, as customers continue to utilize the infamous IVR and speak to agents in your contact center. With greater than 90% of the contact centers front-ended by an IVR, the technology plays a mission critical role in your overall customer service strategy. That said, as you have invested in new support channels to engage customers, have you lost focus on keeping the IVR up to date? In sports, we hear the following quote used all the time – “A team is only as strong as its weakest link.” Within the realm of customer service, your overall customer satisfaction is only as strong as the weakest channel! Ovum forecasts that companies will spend $2.6B on IVR solutions in 2014 and $2.8B in 2015. We are entering a “Take III” phase with the IVR channel and pose a question to those involved with the IVR – “will you get it right this time?”

At MicroAutomation, we have humorous conversations with our clients on whether the IVR is a technology hated more by our clients, or their customers. In fact, for years we promoted a tagline at industry events stating “does the ‘I’ in your IVR stand for “informative or irritating” to highlight the frustration with the customer service channel. Most systems today were designed with a methodology born in the 1980s and the original touch-tone technology. We greet the customer with a message, then a lengthy menu of choices, press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for yet something else, and the choices go on and on.

Personally, I like companies that inject the infamous “please listen as our menu options have recently changed” message – only to leave it in place for 3-4 years after the last update to the IVR. The first generation of IVR did provide the advertised cost savings but the implementation strategy caused the dislike, or outright hatred, of the channel. I will skip the history lesson on the evolution of IVR, the addition of speech recognition, and move to what we call “Take III” on this vital channel and component of your overall customer service strategy.

“Take I” represents the original era in which we deployed touch tone applications. “Take II” represents the second era in which we re-deployed similar menu driven applications, but enabled customers to speak commands. “Take III” represents a new era, one in which the IVR no longer transitions from a support channel we all love to hate, to a channel your customers will opt to utilize. To achieve the vision of the new era of IVR, we first need to focus on two critical items: the “menu” design and agent integration.

Personalized Self-Service

First, the traditional “menu” design needs to be replaced. Your 3rd generation of IVR applications must leverage your customer data in an intuitive fashion. Inbound calls should match ANI (caller ID) and identify the customer with a simple authentication question. In parallel, we need to predict why the customer called in the first place, and engage them in a personalized IVR experience, some use cases:

  • If your customer has a pending order, do not greet them with the traditional main menu, but offer them a personalized experience – “Are you calling about the status of your online order for the new Acme XYZ Driver placed on…?” – do not force a customer to locate the order status option from the main menu
  • If your customer has an interruption in service – “Are you calling about the service outage impacting your HD channels…?” – again do not force a customer to speak to an agent or traverse a menu to learn of a disruption in a service, predict the reason for the call and engage the customer on that topic
  • If your customer has a scheduled appointment – “Are you calling regarding your service appointment for Friday at 9 AM…?” – and then give them the option to utilize self-service to confirm, reschedule, or cancel the appointment

Moving away from the traditional menu design to a system that engages the customer in the likely reason for the call eliminates that decades old hatred of the IVR. Your intuitive IVR design will cause customers to stop viewing the channel as a roadblock to speaking to a customer service agent. The long, confusing menu prompts are replaced with dynamic content regarding the likely reason for the call. You transition the IVR to a strategic investment that drives down costs while improving overall customer satisfaction.

Value My Time

Second, we need to eliminate a customer ever having to re-authenticate to an agent if they answer the questions in the IVR. Nothing is more frustrating than entering an account number to an IVR and then re-state the same information to an agent. In addition to customer authentication, the IVR must pass context when the system fails to resolve the issue and transfers to an agent. For example, agents need to know that a customer just spent 3 minutes attempting to pay by phone, but failed to enter the security code on the back of the card. Imagine the positive experience when the agent engages the customer with context:

  • Agent: “Chad, it looks like you entered an invalid security code to our IVR, so we could not process your payment request. If you turn your MasterCard to the back of the card, can you confirm the three digit code to the right of signature block?”
  • Chad: “1-2-3”
  • Agent: “Can you confirm the payment amount of $150?”
  • Chad: “Yes”
  • Agent: “We have successfully processed your payment, would you like to save this card information for future use on our web portal or IVR self-service for payments”
  • Chad: “Yes”
  • Agent: “Great, the next time you use our IVR or website, you will only need to enter the last 4 digits on the card to make a payment”

As you plan your upgrade during the “Take III” phase of the infamous IVR, it is critical to implement a design that predicts the nature of the call and eliminates the frustrating menu based systems. Of equal importance, the new system must screen-pop the customer record to an agent and provide the context of the transaction attempt within IVR self-service. The two combined strategies will transition your IVR to a positive experience for your customers, while driving down costs through improved containment in the IVR.