This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
When it comes to designing and implementing an IVR system at your business, simplicity is key. Self-service solutions leveraging IVR can offer great value if they’re easy to use from the customer perspective, and easy to adopt from the business perspective.
But organizations shouldn’t go overboard in leveraging IVR-based self service, says JR Sloan, product director of portfolio management at Enghouse (News - Alert) Interactive, which touches on all aspects of customer interaction management. If they do, he says, they will risk frustrating current and potential customers, and negatively impacting their own businesses. IVR is not a customer avoidance tool, he adds, saying that businesses that use it as such may get their wish and keep customers away.
That’s why it’s important for organizations to choose the right things to automate, Sloan says, like information that can help route customers to the most appropriate resource. An IVR is also a good tool to help callers with transactions like bill payments, order status requests, password reassignments and the like, he says, adding that an agent doesn’t add much value in completing such tasks. Using an IVR can also be a great way to do call backs to customers, so they are alerted as soon as possible that the power is back up, for example, Sloan adds.
Another tip to consider when implementing an IVR, Sloan says, is to be sure to deploy enough ports in your call center for the solution. That means you need to be able to estimate how many calls will involve self service.
Of course, one of the most common end user problems with IVR and self-service voice solutions is getting caught in a loop in which there’s no escape and no chance to resolution.
To address that, Virtual Hold Technology (News - Alert) recently introduced the Conversation Bridge, which offers immediate or scheduled callbacks that capture previously entered context data from any channel and passes it to agents using existing routing and screen-pop systems. It offers the ability to access live agents regardless of the channel the customer is contacting them through – smartphones, mobile apps, social media sites, websites and even gaming consoles.
“By 2016, more than 60 percent of inbound customer service calls will come from smartphones, laptops and devices other than landlines like gaming consoles, set-top boxes and store kiosks,” says VHT CEO Kevin Sjodin. “Today’s always-connected, app-enabled customers want answers quickly so they can solve problems and accomplish tasks. This means that after trying self service, sometimes they need to talk.”
With that comment, Sjodin gets us to the trend part of this IVR discussion. Like virtually every other part of customer care, the IVR is being impacted by the major uptake of social networking and mobile services, and the resulting trend of multi-channel customer interaction.
For many years IVR was looked at as separate from the rest of the contact center, says Sloan of Enghouse. It was a separate purchase and a separate part of the discussion. But, Sloan says he’s starting to see interest by customers who see the value of both now working together. That’s good news for Enghouse, which delivers IVR as an integrated part of its multi-channel contact center solution.
Don Keane (News - Alert), vice president of marketing and business development at Angel, a cloud-based customer experience management company that delivers IVR, ACD and other multichannel options like chat, SMS, and voice biometrics – all integrated for contact center use, says the emergence of a variety of new trends and technologies is making it a pretty exciting time for the IVR, which goes all the way back to the 1950s. Traditionally, he says, IVR has not been very customer-centric or satisfying. But today the IVR is converging with analytics, mobility and multichannel solutions to change the whole equation.
Half of Angel’s customers now use the company’s business intelligence and analytics solution to analyze call flows and figure out where, when and how better to use IVR, he says. Meanwhile, the widespread availability of mobile networks and use of mobile devices is enabling contact center agents and supervisors to be more productive wherever they are, and resulting in more requested from customers coming in from mobile devices. Tied into that is the multi-channel trend. Contact centers that include chat, e-mail and SMS already are popular, says Keane, but he says Angel is getting more requests for solutions that include chat and voice biometrics. Angel even recently added a GPS component to its platform, which client companies can use in applications tied to customers or their own workers.
Not surprisingly, social networking is also becoming a part of Angel’s strategy. Keane says that outbound communications is a place where social could play, and that Angel is doing work on this front. Indeed, Keane explains thatAngel is using "social media information from platforms like Facebook & Google (News - Alert)+ to develop customer end user outbound messages (via IVR) based on preferences, profiles and likes/dislikes for consumer packaged goods companies."
Kim Martin, director of marketing at Voxeo, which sells customer interaction automation software, says IVR typically brings to mind voice-based interactions, but that “these platforms are having to evolve to accommodate more channels because everyone is mobile and people have smartphones, and that trend is just going continue to that point that your landline phone is going to be a thing of the past.”
The one-size-fits-all IVR that everybody hated is going away completely, he says. New IVRs can tap into a company’s databases like CRM resources, and look at customer preferences and transaction histories so an organization can be informed about the needs of individual customers and the opportunities to build their loyalty and increase their value.
More IVR Tips
Don't rush the planning phase.
Take time to work out the key tasks callers want to accomplish in a way that will seem intuitive to them. At this point, the technology should be the simplest aspect – ideally you will be working with a simple drag-and-drop interface. The trickiest part is getting into the minds of your customers and approaching the world from their perspective, and less from the perspective of your own departments and product lines.
Give a limited number of options at each stage.
If you’ve got to eight or nine options, it’s overkill for the caller. It’s easy to overload the caller at any one stage, but you need to be sensitive to the time and level of concentration it takes to listen to a large number of options.
Beta test with real people.
Try to test your IVR flow with real people before putting it into production. If your testing is only done with people involved in the IVR project or customer service, the testing phase may not highlight any challenges. However, with the fresh sets of ears of people who have not been involved until this stage, you always uncover issues that would not have occurred to anyone who was inside the process.
When the IVR goes into production, you're only half way there.
It is tempting to think that once the IVR is launched then the job is done, but like many things in life, you need to keep sweating the small stuff to continually improve. Keep working at the flow to prioritize items that are more popular than expected, to downgrade options that are less popular than expected and to remove the ones that are not being used.
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