Discovery Channel Poll Votes IVR the Most Annoying Invention Ever, How They Got It Wrong.

According to a recent study of 2,000 adults that was commissioned by the Discovery Channel to mark the launch of their new show How We Invented the World, automated telephone switchboards (IVR's) have been voted the most annoying invention of all time. One in seven people say recordings asking them to “press one to place an order, two to…” infuriate them more than any other gadget or innovation. I say they're wrong. It's not the IVR that is annoying people, it’s the poor implementations that do not account for best practices and customer experience. I can think of far more annoying inventions, but let's concentrate on helping you avoid the pitfalls so that your users don't consider your IVR 'The Most Annoying' ever.

Poor implementations contain things that cause user frustration such as old tools, unchanged options, inaccurate paths… you get the picture. Times are always changing and technology changes faster than any of us can keep up with it seems. Working with updated tools, better performing software, and partners with the experience to accomplish a common goal will get your users a better IVR experience. The old way of press 1 for sales, 2 for service can work, but there are better ways. Speech recognition is a viable option if implemented correctly. This means an IVR that is built, tested, and then monitored, analyzed and tweaked. That follow up is key, and where most companies fail. They discuss and meet and go through the options, believe they have a well thought out IVR, implement it, make sure it is working according to the design, and then stop. They rarely follow up and check to see if there are issues when the users hit the system. Maybe the users are calling for something different and you didn't account for that. This will cause them to end up in the wrong place, need transfers, bouncing around, and delayed satisfaction in resolving their issues. This is the biggest cause of their frustration. The goal for an IVR should be to get the user to the proper resource who can assist them, as quickly as possible.

Poor business processes are the next area where people often fail. I hear things like, “the goal is to get a warm body, a live person to answer the call as quickly as possible.” I can tell you that this is the wrong approach as well. Getting someone on the phone who can't help me is going to make me more frustrated, because I am going to explain everything to them, then they are going to say... “Ok, you need to speak to someone in group XYZ, I'll transfer you.” I will then have to start all over. It's much better to hold for a slightly longer period and speak to the right resource. Analyze and adjust your business processes to get your users to the best resource as fast as possible.

Keep it simple. This was one of the first things I learned in business. Overly complicated IVRs cause delays in call routing and handle times. There are times and needs for certain complications, but balance them with user experience. Simple is faster and better. Decide where is the best place to gather the info you need for reporting, and do it in one place. I often see companies gathering a ton of data in a CRM system, and trying to gather the same info from the customer in the IVR, and then complain that the two don't match. Your agents will be able to know what needs to be entered better than your customers. If you're gathering that type of info in a CRM application, there is no need to duplicate it in the phone system and delay the call. Provide simpler options. If you don't and you need to do it in the phone system, that's fine, but make sure you approach it from the user point of view in order to have it work best.

So to avoid having the worst IVR in the eyes of your users, let’s review the key things to keep in mind.

  • Newer Tools – Contact center solutions with options that provide a visual call flow editor can help you see exactly what’s going on in your IVR. It’s much easier to spot issues and allows for additional new features, like Speech recognition, Text to speech options, and Database integrations to gather customer information and make decisions based on that.
  • Updated Options – be sure you keep your IVR relevant. Business changes often. Each time your business changes, your IVR needs updating. This is too frequently overlooked.
  • Inaccurate Paths – Be sure you are reviewing your IVR periodically and making sure the paths are accurate and relevant. Keep in mind that recordings of your callers interacting with your IVR can be monumentally helpful in this process.
  • Route Calls to the Proper Resource – Don’t take the ‘Warm Body’ approach. Getting a call answered by someone who can’t assist is more frustrating to users.
  • Review and update your business processes – Your business is constantly changing, do your processes reflect that? Have they taken into account changes you’ve made in your day to day business?
  • Keep it Simple – don’t overly complicate things, just because you can. Think it through from the users’ perspective.

Following these simple guidelines will help you avoid some of the major pitfalls that many IVR’s fall into. Be sure that if you’re not an expert, consult someone who is. They can help you lower your handle times, streamline your IVR and get higher customer satisfaction rates, which results in happier agents, lower churn, and more efficient work all around.

What are some IVR pitfalls you’ve experienced? Please feel free to comment or contact me to discuss.