IVR: Prison or Solution

I had to laugh when I read this Twitter post from Greg Levin –

“IVR: An electronic prison where companies house their least valuable customers.”

I can relate – I’m still getting therapy for a recent 12 minute incarceration in a cable provider’s IVR! I’ll bet you have had stinky experiences, too – unfortunately, they aren’t rare.

Even so, a majority of customers prefer using self-service systems for routine questions and requests. Examples are things like prescription refills, checking orders or flight status, account balance, store hours/locations, and tracking shipments. If customers are on a wireless phone, they’re even more amenable to self-service.

How can we have yucky experiences and still prefer self-service for lots of stuff? Well, there are advantages to well-crafted self-service solutions:

  • The system is available 24/7/365
  • Customers don’t have to wait in queue for an agent to get their answer
  • Customers get their answers quickly with little delay

So, how can we design self-service solutions to help service providers and customers?

  • Always give customers a way to opt-out to an agent, and share it with them. If they know they can always reach out to an agent easily, customers are more likely to try self-service. (In fact, 77% of customers say this is critical to a self-service system1.)
  • Whenever possible, keep the IVR to three choices or less at every branch. This makes it possible for a busy caller to retain the choices upon first hearing and be better able to make the right selection the first time.
  • Design the IVR with the customer in mind. How do they describe their questions/problems? Use words your customers use and understand.

To summarize:

  1. Always show the exit sign.
  2. Don’t create big forks in the road.
  3. Don’t make it hard to find the way.

Despite occasional crummy experiences, customers still find value in self-service. As service providers, our job is to make sure self-service is designed to encourage customer use and to help with common questions.


1Source: “Driving Consumer Engagement With Automated Telephone Customer Service,” Forrester, September 2009.