This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2012 issue of CUSTOMER
Most companies are focusing on adding channels to their customer support, such as live chat, social media and smartphone apps, while simultaneously adding features to enhance their contact centers, such as click-to-call or allowing premium status callers direct access to a live agent (as we’ve seen with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card). However, they all seem to be dancing around the subject of their IVR. Instead, they are looking for ways to boost every channel around the automated system in efforts to reduce the impact of a detrimental IVR or to reduce the call volumes into their contact centers. What’s the point of creating a brilliant multichannel customer support chain if your IVR is a broken link in that chain? I will now defer to the overused, yet appropriate cliché – putting a Band-Aid on an open wound.
Why is my IVR so bad?
Your IVR is so bad because it lacks the ability to understand your callers. Your callers are frustrated with your automated system before they even use it due to an abysmal track record and a lack of innovation in traditional automated speech recognition.
When interfacing with an IVR, callers have come to expect:
? menu options that don’t fit their needs;
? the need to repeat information in the IVR that they give in the IVR;
? the need to repeat information to the live agent that they already provided in the IVR;
? low expectation that they will be routed to the correct destination; and
? difficulty in reaching a live representative.
So where does your ASR fall short? Do your customers have to repeat information to the live agent that was given in the IVR? CTI (News - Alert) will take care of that. Do they have difficulty reaching a live agent? You could design an IVR capable of addressing that problem. However, if your system suffers from speech recognition failures, an inability to diversely route, and inadequate menu options, you probably can’t do anything about that with the technology you’re currently using.
While it’s true that automated speech recognition and natural language are getting incrementally better every year, there will always be a performance gap between ASR technology and human understanding that prevents your callers from communicating in their own words. Natural language, at its best, still doesn’t allow your callers to speak in their own words. Directed dialogue forces your callers into speaking in a way that works for the system. You’ve heard them before: “How can I help you? You can speak to me in full sentences, but you can only say ‘make a reservation’ or ‘cancel an appointment.’” Your callers want to express their problems in their own way because they believe that their call is unique (which is why they are calling – they probably already looked to complete their request on your website) and that your automated system won’t be able to meet their needs.
What am I supposed to do?
You need to think creatively. ASR works in many areas, but there are many areas in which it fails. Supplementing your ASR with human-assisted understanding provided by several thought-leading companies, such as Interactions, can make your IVR work. (If you are unfamiliar with human-assisted understanding, check out a demo.) This approach eliminates the pain points and provides greater understanding that will enable you to build more functionality into your system.
That being said, many IVR companies have tried to build human-assisted understanding IVRs themselves, but have been unable to meet their ROI requirements. When they quantify the benefits to the call center infrastructure and compare that number to the price tag (News - Alert) for improving their system, the math doesn’t work. But at the risk of sounding like a marketing professional (which I am), I have to tell you that Interactions has cracked that code. Our many customer-centric clients can attest to that.
If you are still relying solely on ASR to respond to all your customers’ needs, you are missing a big piece of the puzzle. Instead of forcing the customer to communicate in unnatural ways that suit your system, you need to build a system that accepts and responds to what they have to say, just like a live agent. You have to accept responsibility for your communication mediums and stop forcing your customers to speak in the way that’s best for the IVR. It’s time to get creative. Stop thinking about your IVR as a gateway to your representatives, and start viewing it as a critical, strategic platform for self service that can seriously boost your customer experience.
Dan Fox is marketing director for Interactions Corp. (www.interactions.net).
Edited by Brooke Neuman