The buzz in the customer care industry always tilts in the direction of the shiny new object. Customer engagement on social media, chatbot assistants powered by artificial intelligence, and continued migration to the cloud continue to receive the most press coverage. It appears that a forgotten and perhaps neglected service channel, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), is once again driving customer value and showing up in industry publications due to new design methodologies.
The Design We Love to Hate – Touch Tone and Voice Menus
I cannot think of a more controversial technology used in customer service than the IVR. After two decades of use, most people will tell you that they simply hate them. Why? They were deployed using a menu design that used canned, robotic messages and forces us to select or speak options from lengthy lists of choices. Sure, the design “worked” and contained costs but caused a generation of customers to associate IVR with frustration and anger. Simply put, the dreaded menu design falls into the bucket of “reactive” customer service and contributes to a poor customer experience.
From Reactive to Proactive Design
A few years ago, the industry thought leadership was flooded with research, white papers, and examples of moving from a reactive service culture to a proactive one in efforts to drive customer retention. By proactive, we mean doing something for your customer before they are forced to ask you. With the spread of new information systems detailing everything about a customer and use of data outside a traditional CRM, new IVRs appear to be adopting the proactive spirit. I have long called this the “event driven” IVR design but it is the value to the customer that matters, not the name.
For example, I recently called my cable provider and was “proactively” offered up the following message in the IVR:
A regional outage impacting your residence is the cause of intermittent outages of your internet service. Work is scheduled to be completed by 8:00 PM today to prevent further interruptions of service. Can we assist with another issue or question?
By being proactive, I did use the IVR and said one word “No” and hung up the phone. I was not waiting for an agent for 10 minutes nor forced to navigate the annoying menus. The proactive design respected my time and fulfills our definition – doing something for your customer before they are forced to ask you. By determining the intent of my call, the proactive IVR design becomes a valuable piece of the customer retention pie.
I am sure within your company, regardless of the industry vertical, you could develop a top 5 list of customer intents (or reasons for the call) that link to back-end systems and could drive proactive engagement with your customers. From service outages, expired credit card for auto pay, a pending appointment or reservation, open service case, or a recent gift card transaction – the use cases are endless.
It is time to end the reactive, menu driven IVR design and replace it with a proactive, personalized experience for your customers.
In addition to the trend of changing the design from reactive to proactive, companies continue to adopt natural language (NLU) main menus that allow you to engage an IVR in a ‘near’ human like fashion. Instead of long, robotic lists of menus we are presented with”Thanks for calling, how can I help you today?” and we can speak in complete phrases. I have a long history of using my wireless carrier as an example of how NOT to provide excellent service, here is my personal favorite example.
But, if you are a customer of AT&T, they have switched to using a natural language main menu and having used it on a recent technical problem with my phone, it was a night/day improvement! I stated my problem and was routed to a technical call center that walked me through a factory reset to resolve the problem. I did not spend 5 minutes finding tech support in the 100 menus of the old IVR. I did not speak to the general care center to then be transferred to the technical care center.
If you have different call centers for service versus technical questions, or a lot of agent segmentation by skills, you need to implement NLU to stop agent to agent transfers. Use the new design and get your customers to the correct agent the first time. Or, get them to the correct self-service menu without the annoying menu selection game.