IVR Limbo: The Customer Experience Killer

Spoken | April 2, 2015

What makes for a good IVR experience?

Megaphone-girlHave you ever had one of those times when you were trying to solve an issue, say, with your cable service, or perhaps an online purchase, and you had great difficulty even getting to a person that could help you? The phone system couldn’t understand you? Or worse, the phone system transferred you to a different department and you had to start all over again! UGH! Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than calling a company and getting stuck in Interactive Voice Response limbo!

Those of us who work creating IVRs completely understand this frustration, because let’s face it, at one time or another, we’ve all been there. Yes, we are part of the call center industry, but we’re also consumers who understand the frustration of poor customer service and technology that doesn’t perform well. That’s why we’ve taken the time to understand this issue to gain a better understanding of customer’s primary complaints and then devise solutions that helps call centers avoid these maddening pitfalls.

The Spoken 2015 Call Center Report was recently published and it focused on three areas:

  1. Key drivers of positive and negative customer experiences
  2. How customers share their experiences
  3. Customer channel preferences

For this post, let’s focus on the first area: key drivers of positive and negative customer experiences.

The key drivers of customer experience

It may surprise you to know what customers rank as the number 1 issue determining a positive or negative customer experience: the agent’s ability to resolve their issue. Yes, an overwhelming 70% of respondents ranked this as the top factor affecting their satisfaction level. Sure, technology can be frustrating, but when customers call in to solve a problem, they want to speak to someone who actually has the authority to creatively solve the problem instead of being forced to read a script or check with a supervisor. So the good news is that even if you don’t have the best IVR technology, if you train and empower your agents to resolve issues quickly and creatively, you already have improved your chances of getting a high customer satisfaction score. It’s something that we technologists need to remember: technology can certainly help the process, but it all comes down to really great people in the end.

Speed to agent

That being said, 49% indicated that Speed to Agent was in their top two contributing factors of a positive customer experience.  And here is where a well-designed IVR shines and can make or break the customer experience: an elegantly-designed call flow that flows like a conversation while still collecting the key information necessary to route the call properly is truly a thing of beauty.

But what exactly is that information? A good way to start is to make a list of EXACTLY what you need in order to route the caller properly:

  • Phone number Can you do ANI recognition? If so, you can avoid having to ask the caller to enter her phone number.
  • Account number Do you need a full account number, or will a last name and zip return the same results and be easier for the caller to remember?
  • Reason for call Is is necessary to present a full menu of options for your callers, or can you invest in speech recognition by which callers can answer an open-ended question such as “how may I help you?” in their own words without having to listen to a half-dozen menu options?

Positive caller experience

Negative IVR experiences

The third issue for customers affecting satisfaction is a negative IVR experience. An overwhelming 77% of respondents ranked “repeating responses to the IVR” as the first or second factor in creating a negative call experience. And while most organizations find it perfectly reasonable to ask a caller to repeat a response, the fact is that 80% of callers will immediately opt out (hit zero) the very first time the IVR asks them to repeat a response.

Unfortunately, in most cases, hitting zero to opt out of the IVR call flow ends up extending the length of the call, since the system is then forced to route the caller to a general queue rather than the specific billing, support or service queue that the caller actually needs. Additionally, since the agent must then ask the caller all the questions the IVR was supposed to ask, the call becomes even longer, and the customer becomes even more dissatisfied.

Tips for a friendly IVR

So, how does an organization know if its IVR is driving callers away? A few tips:

  • Measure, measure, measure In addition to standard call center metrics such as Net Promoter Score or Average Handle Time, ask your IVR provider to provide statistics on how many callers complete the call flow, how many opt out and when exactly each caller opts out. This will help to target which of the IVR prompts need to be adjusted for a quick fix.
  • Know your callers Now that you’ve got those metrics, do a monthly review of Reasons for Call. Of the three to five options in your menu, which gets the most traffic? Which gets the least? Update your menu so that the most common Reasons for Call are listed first and easy to find.
  • Call your IVR While this should go without saying, all too often, it doesn’t. Call in to your own IVR at least once a month to get a feel for the customer experience. How easy is it to accomplish the task at hand? Are there prompts that can be removed?
  • Beef up your speech recognition While most Automated Speech Recognizers produce roughly the same results, they all have certain Achilles’ heels: background noise, sirens, barking dogs, coughs or “um’s” will befuddle even the most expensive and advanced ASRs (go ahead, trying saying your name clear as a bell, but add the word “um” in the middle!).  Spoken offers a facile solution to this issue: the Spoken Smart IVR, which adds Silent Guides in the background to jump in and make real-time corrections in these instances. The end result is that the caller stays in the call flow, and opt-outs reduce dramatically.

  Negative caller experience



While the biggest factor in providing a positive caller experience is the expertise, enthusiasm and empowerment of your agents, it’s also a good idea to make sure that your call center technology is giving those agents the best chance of success. After all, how long has it been since you reviewed your IVR experience?

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