Is it time to ditch self-service in IVR?


Image from page 251 of "Bell telephone magazine" (1922)

The technology to call a machine, enter an account number, and have it say back an account balance or recent transactions is wonderful… if you live in the past.

Let’s be realists here, in today’s era of smartphones and feature-rich websites. The last time you ever called an IVR to find out an account balance was when you were sporting a flip phone or maybe a BlackBerry. Back then we (the customers) were limited in our method of interacting with companies, so the smarties at the companies engineered a box, gave it a voice, and forced you to input (or say) an account ID that’s ridiculously long anyway.

Caller self-service, they proudly say. Cuts down on agent talk time and improves customer satisfaction.

True, when the Motorola Razr was bling and carrying a BlackBerry was a status symbol. But times have changed…

First came the fancy websites. Computers had gotten cheap, broadband speeds became decent, and companies figured it’s even more cost effective to direct customers to the website for self-service. Ironically this is still true as many IVRs still tell callers to go on the website for certain information.

Then came the iPhone. Even with just slow EDGE (2G) cellular data speeds initially, customers and developers realized the potential with the mobile web, and with later models capable of 3G and 4G connectivity, the power of native smartphone apps.

I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim this: Rarely does one call the IVR for self-service today. Almost always we are going on the website or using an app on the phone.

So if nobody is using the IVR for self-service, why even allow it?

  • Self-service on IVR makes it bloated. Strip away all the self-service stuff in your existing IVR. Now admire its simplicity. Call, pick a menu item, transfer. If the person’s calling the IVR, it’s very likely s/he wants to speak to a live agent anyway (because the website and app couldn’t help!). Might as well get her/him to an agent as quickly as possible.
  • Self-service on IVR makes implementation costly. Building call flow menus isn’t that hard but does require very good documentation and organization skills. The challenging part is making the IVR communicate to a database, web service, or whatever backend interface necessary to obtain customer data. That adds complexity, which translates to more development time, more testing time, and more money. (How about using that money to hire/train better agents, improve the website user interface, or develop an awesome smartphone app?)
  • Self-service on IVR may not improve customer satisfaction. Are you happy having to read off a n-digit number to the IVR, half of the time it gets it wrong, and you’re transferred to an agent only to be asked to repeat the number? People are more satisfied speaking to a courteous live representative. Record IVR prompts in the most friendliest voice and people will still dislike it. Has a customer ever wrote a letter telling management how helpful and friendly the IVR is? No, customers take time to send letters thanking nice agents.
  • Self-service on IVR for REALLY simple tasks. For example, credit card activations or requesting printed documents. There are use cases which make sense, just keep in mind that the phone keypad is a terrible navigation device. 

Some of you may protest: What if our majority customer demographics are folks who are not tech-savvy, like the elderly?

To that I’ll respond: Stop living in denial. Does grandma prefer to listen to voicemail or actually speak to her grandchild? If you are servicing the elderly, there’s even more reason to get them connected to a live agent ASAP.

 

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