Score one for the robots: IVRs beat humans

Spoken | August 9, 2016

Human robot
IMG_9489_hmiller_med_2_3 by Heidi Miller, Chief Conversation Officer

In monitoring the web, blogosphere and Twittersphere for trends in the call center, contact center and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) industry, it’s hard not to notice the popular pastime of railing against bad customer service in general and IVRs in particular. Bad customer service seems to be an epidemic, and bad IVR construction bears the brunt of customer complaints.

As well it should. A new service, LucyPhone, offers to sit on hold for you and call you when an agent answers. The creators claim that we spend 60 hours a year on hold. Sixty hours? If that’s true (and I haven’t been able to verify the statistic), I can certainly think of a load of things I would rather have done in the last year than sit on hold. They would include writing more blog posts on customer service and social media, seeing a move more often than once every six months, and reading The Power of Pull and Marketing in the Age of Google, both of which I have not cracked, though I’m quite eager to do so.

However, whenever I ping a Twitter complainant to ask what they would do to improve an IVR, the answer is invariably, “Just have it understand me” and “Just ask me what I want and let me say it, no press 1 for blah and press 2 for blah.” No one has ever said, “Just get me to a real person.”

That is interesting, isn’t it? I mean, sites like GetHuman would have you believe that getting through to a human being is the holy mecca of the IVR, but the truth is that the web even more full of complaints about humans giving bad customer service.

And now there’s even more proof that getting to a human isn’t always the answer–or even the preferred route. Forrester recently conducted a survey about IVRs, which indicated that consumers now actually prefer IVR to human help for mundane tasks, such as tracking packages, checking flight times and account balances. And check this out:

The survey results show that more than 50% of participants reported a
preference for speech-enabled IVR for most simple transactions.

Another step towards the robot apocalypse? Maybe. More likely it’s that engineers have finally figured out which tasks IVRs excel at performing and which tasks humans are best at.

And the study is quick to point out that the best IVR designs do easily allow callers to get to a human easily for the complicated issues. However, it’s fascinating, isn’t it, that callers are starting to appreciate the efficiency of an automated robot giving the flight status or package tracking, so we can get on the call, get the information, get off easily, and get on with reading those books we’ve been meaning to crack (or writing the blog post, or playing ball with the kids, or what have you).

Will customer service ever be 100% automated? Probably not. At Spoken, we’ve discovered an average of  20% of caller issues are complicated and do still require a human touch, and that human touch is what helps to build the customer relationship and long-term customer loyalty.

But knowing now that customers do appreciate a nicely-engineered automated IVR for self-service, would you implement one? As a caller, would you agree with Forrester’s study results?

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