August 01, 2023
Technology Solution Delivery

The Dos and Don’ts of IVR Design

Agent. Agent! AGENT! Having worked the majority of my career as an IVR consultant doing IVR design and enhancing Interactive Voice Recognition systems (IVR’s), I’ve seen a lot of frustration from the users. When I tell my friends and family what I do, I get reactions such as “I hate those things,” or “Why won’t companies let me speak to an agent?” When I speak with other IVR designers, I hear comments such as “customers don’t even try” or “how could they have picked the wrong option?”

So, who is right? Is the company to blame for forcing this upon customers or is the customer to blame for not using it right? As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Here are some dos and don’ts of IVRs for both IVR designers and users.

IVR Design

Below are some IVR design best practices

  1. Use the collected data from customers’ account intelligently. This data can be extremely powerful to personalize the IVR customer experience and reduce customer frustration. It is extremely frustrating for a caller to answer questions they feel the company should already know (e.g., what products and services they have or are they an existing customer).
  2. Even further, when considering what to automate, analyze what it will take to automate the function. Do you have the data available to support the function? Will you see a return on your investment?
  3. Implement a feedback loop. Good IVR design requires a commitment beyond the initial design. A company needs to be dedicated to collecting data, listening to calls, and analyzing the results. Too often, companies believe they know exactly how their customers are going to behave and align their IVR design to those assumptions. Inevitably, some of these assumptions will be incorrect and changes will need to be made. To avoid this scenario, verify your assumptions by working with your customer base to perform usability testing. Further, it is crucial that companies be prepared to make changes after implementation and design an application that is flexible and easy to change. Doing this due diligence up front will result in cost reduction and reduce customer frustration.
  4. Keep the menus simple and make sure the IVR design always gives the caller the sense they are moving forward. Don’t use jargon. Speak about your products and services in a way that your callers will understand. This may sound obvious, but I have seen many designs which do not follow this guideline. Callers will request an agent as soon as they feel they are going down the incorrect path. If the caller has the perception that the questions are leading them down the correct path, they will be more likely to continue in the IVR.
  5. Do not hide the option to reach an agent. It is impossible to automate every task that a customer can perform; therefore, reaching an agent should always be an option. A well thought out IVR architecture and IVR design do not need to hide the agent option because many customers are willing to use the IVR and will not fall back on the agent option. It’s like knowing you have a safety net. You’re more willing to take a chance when you know it’s there.
  6. Collect, manage, govern, and report on your data. IVRs can produce massive amounts of data and that data can inform not only how well the application is performing but also help you identify future enhancements.
  7. Customers say a lot of things, make sure you can understand them and handle their need correctly. Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) can be used to understand a customer’s complex question and to provide more accurate and relevant responses. For example, if a customer asks “I spoke to an agent yesterday and they said that I shouldn’t have been charged for that service and I should get a refund. I am calling to find out how I can get my refund.”, an NLP-enabled IVR system could understand that the customer is asking about a refund and could provide the customer with the information they need to process a refund. NLP gives you the flexibility to support additional customer needs beyond the typical press 1 or press 2 menus.
  8. AI and predictive intelligence can also be used to enhance the customer experience by providing personalized recommendations and offers. For example, if a customer has previously purchased a product from a company, an AI-enabled IVR system could recommend other products that the customer might be interested in. An application using predictive intelligence can be used to anticipate customer needs and to provide proactive support. For example, if a customer’s account is about to expire, a predictive intelligence system could send the customer an email reminder to renew their account.

Below are factors customers should consider when using an IVR

  1. I will not try to convince you that all IVRs work well. However, I will ask you to assume that there are some good ones out there. I talk to several people who refuse to try navigating through an IVR even if they are using it for the first time. Instead, their immediate reaction is to say, “agent.”  Those who make an effort will find that a good IVR design can be helpful. It’s better than spending time waiting for an agent, getting bounced around to another agent, or being disconnected with the agent after waiting.
  2. Remember, a company’s goal is to get callers that need to talk to a person to the appropriate agent, not prevent them from getting to an agent at all. Companies spend countless hours and money training their agents to be experts in certain areas (orders, billing questions, technical support, etc.). Give the IVR a chance and take the time to answer the questions. This improves the chance of getting to the right agent the first time and avoids longer wait times as a result of being transferred.
  3. In many instances, agents have the same access to your bill or offers that the IVR has. If the IVR says there are not any offers available, it’s likely that the agent won’t have anything else.
  4. Do not be afraid to give feedback if you have a bad experience in an IVR. Companies who design IVRs often deal with a large customer base that can lead to a complex design. There is a good chance they have not thought of everything and are not aware of some of the challenges their customers are facing. Companies do care about customer satisfaction and their goal is to make the IVR experience as easy as possible for you. Your feedback will be welcomed unaware of some of the challenges their customers face.

Both parties involved (companies who implement them and customers who use them) must remember that the intent is to improve customer service and reduce costs. Those outcomes are goals both parties would find beneficial. If the IVR design doesn’t improve customer experience or reduce costs, question the implementation and the change management associated with it.

As IVR consultants, we take pride in asking the right questions and engineering an IVR implementation approach targeting those two objectives and ensuring an improved customer experience and cost reduction. Connect with us to learn more about our Contact Center Solutions practice.

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