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  • Ghosts, Goblins and Auto Attendants!

    Posted: Monday, December 12, 2011

    by Suellen Richardson

If you could hear the sounds customers make when attempting to navigate through your company’s IVR, would it sound like a haunted house filled with agonizing, blood curdling screeches, moans and groans? Some companies assume that callers enjoy the ‘convenience’ of an IVR system, but unfortunately, many who dare to enter the corridors of an IVR filled with mysterious twists and turns leave screaming and never come back! And that could be scaring away both your new and loyal customers.

According to Wikipedia, an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is a “phone technology that allows a computer to detect voice and touch tones using a normal phone call. The IVR system can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct callers on how to proceed.” But some people might define IVR more simply as “That annoying automated system that gives an endless list of prompts and menu options – often used to increase difficulty for customers trying to reach a human being when calling a company for assistance.”

What used to be a phone “tree” has now morphed into a virtual “forest”, requiring callers to press 10 or more options in order to reach a human, costing consumers valuable time and money. Desperate consumers looking for shortcuts are resorting to websites such as to access secret phone numbers and codes that immediately get a live person on the line for customer service at nearly 1,000 major companies.

Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, recently conducted a survey of more than 2,000 consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom. Here are some alarming findings from the survey:

  • Participants expressed a distinct preference for a more personal – and personable – service experience, and disdained the increasing use of technology in service operations (especially the tools aimed at removing humans from the service equation).
  • When given the option of telephone, email, website, live online chat, sending a letter, or actually going to a place of business, 86% of U.S. survey applicants said that when they have a problem, they pick up the phone.
  • 58% of survey participants said they are not at all satisfied with automated telephone customer service.
  • 61% disagree that the use of technology (such as automated phone attendants and live internet chats) in customer service has improved the level of service significantly in the past five years.
  • Consumers are clearly not happy with the pervasive role of technology in customer service operations. Companies simply must solve the service puzzle – they have no choice. If they don’t, their disenchanted, frustrated customers will become even easier prey for competitors.

A badly implemented IVR could damage your organization’s reputation, cost you customers and increase your costs and call volume. So it’s important to understand the proper use of an IVR system to maintain a balance of efficiency and operational costs while retaining existing customers (not scaring them away) and attracting new ones.

So if telephone service is here to stay, and many callers don’t like interacting with a machine, how can companies make it ‘less scary’ for their callers? Here are a few simple tips related to IVR Best Practices:

1. Provide no more than 4 options per menu, with the most urgent or frequently selected options being first.

2. Describe the key function first, followed by which key to press.

3. Be sure key functions are helpful and detailed enough to assist callers in making their selection.

4. Allow callers enough time to respond to the prompts and to key ahead for quick navigation through the IVR menus.

5. Make it easy for callers who need to speak with an agent. Not all caller needs can be satisfied by the IVR system and it’s important that your callers can easily select to speak with an agent during normal business hours.

6. Provide an option to repeat the menu options and to return to the previous menu if applicable.

Leave the ghosts and goblins for Halloween and use the IVR as the helpful tool it was intended to be. A properly designed IVR will guide callers quickly and when needed, deliver them safely into the capable hands of the frontline reps that will assist them. As Accenture notes: “One of the most significant findings of our survey is that the human touch still counts when it comes to customer service – in fact, it counts a lot.”

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