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Your IVR Doesn't Have to Suck

Given the growing customer preference for solving problems on their own, you'd expect consumers to like interactive voice response, or IVR -- the first generation of self-service technology. They don't. Why? Because IVRs suck, well at least the way they're implemented sucks.

In the 2017 Aspect Consumer Experience Index, we asked consumers about their preferences and issues around contacting customer service. To no one's surprise, IVR topped the list of least favorite channels. In fact, nearly 40% of the consumers in the 2017 Aspect Consumer Experience Index would rather clean a toilet than contact customer service on an IVR. The results beg the question: Are IVRs really that bad? The short answer is yes, but they don't have to be.

Part of the problem with IVRs is that companies love them because they can reduce the cost of customer service interactions by allowing consumers to navigate to answers on their own. In fact, the enterprise appetite is so strong that the global market for IVRs is projected to reach $5.5 billion by 2023, according to Markets and Markets. Driving this demand is expected robust growth in customer experience automation, an overall healthy outlook for customer service infrastructure spending, and continued migration of IVR systems to the cloud.

Still, just because IVRs are cost-effective for a company doesn't mean consumers are on board. We all know that the IVR solutions most companies implement are an exercise in customer frustration. IVRs don't have to suck -- they can succeed in helping a company reduce costs while delivering a good customer self-service experience. Today, you have more high-tech options to invigorate your IVR than you might think. But to create a positive experience, today's modern IVR must meet the expectations of today's consumer. Here are four ways companies can implement IVRs so that they not only suck less, but actually delight consumers.

  1. Know Your Customer Through Context and Predict Caller Intent

    Greeting your customer by his or her name is table stakes in today's hyper-competitive customer service environment. To do "modern IVR" right, you should know what your customers bought last, what they said when they last contacted you, and, ideally, why they might be calling. Carrying context between interactions (and between channels) will give your customers confidence that any interaction they have, on any channel, will be efficient and relevant. In this way, the IVR becomes a valued part of the customer journey rather than a meaningless menu of irrelevant choices.

  2. Make the Experience About Them, Not About You

    Six touch-tone options does not make a good customer experience -- and it's certainly not what your customers want. In the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index, 67% of consumers said a personalized customer service experience was more important than speed of service. A personalized experience matters to consumers and as such, they place as much importance on an interaction's experience as they do the results of that interaction.

    To address this, recognize that all customers aren't the same. Have the ability to offer a variety of input modes, be capable of understanding a broad lexicon of synonyms for common terms, and then have the ability to accommodate all levels of tech-savviness. Present options via audio prompts for low-tech callers who want to be guided through the call while enabling the less patient, "get to the point" consumers to solve their issues quickly by asking the open-ended questions like "what can we help you with today?"

  3. Be Proactive

    There's a big difference between notifications and proactive engagement. The first simply informs the customer that there's an issue that may need his or her attention. The second provides the same information before a customer is forced to contact you and presents options to address the issue. The idea is to engage, not just inform, your customers. Proactive customer service has been shown to increase customer retention rates by 3 to 5%. Plus, proactive engagement can diffuse a customer issue before if festers beyond repair. Use a "modern IVR" to reach out with targeted offers or notifications that provide options for action.

  4. Create a Productive On-Hold Experience

    Part of the frustration consumers experience with older IVR solutions is having to deal with the tediousness of navigating long, and often irrelevant, menu choices to finally end up in a cue waiting for an agent. Most people, if given the option to have their question answered or problem solved through an app, would consider doing that over sitting on hold waiting for an agent. The solution: a visual IVR.

    A visual IVR can send a link in an SMS text message to a Web form, allowing customers to quickly navigate the IVR menu, provide information and potentially solve the problem, all while keeping their places in the agent queue. With visual IVR, customers feel they are proactively advancing issue resolution rather than waiting on endless hold for an agent.

    Another option for customers waiting for a callback from an agent is an in-queue self-service option. This turns idle hold time into productive time by sending a link to a customer offering a digital self-service option. Customers are given the option to try and complete an inquiry on their own without losing their place in the callback queue.

The reality is, IVRs have been solutions for customer service organizations for decades. But today's implementations haven't kept up with engagement innovation found in other, newer channels. Now that the delta between an IVR's business value and customer frustration has become so wide, it's a safe bet that these older solutions are doing more harm than good. A modern, intelligent IVR is also a gateway solution to broader application of artificial intelligence in your customer engagement strategy. Newer technologies like interactive text, chatbots, context continuity, and disposable HTML5 responsive design apps can transform an IVR into an experience customers prefer versus an option they'd rather avoid.