6 ways to better setup IVR, the phone villain

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is probably the acronyms that annoys us, customers, the most. I have had countless experiences where it frustrated me to the point that I stopped doing business with companies.

Recently, one of my parcels was delayed. I had been promised a 3-day delivery and 8 days had passed. I called the company from which I bought the product, and they told me to contact the courier.

This in itself is a very good example of bad customer experience – as they should call the courier they work with (not me!) and get me an update – but that is not the point of this post.

It was a nightmare to find a phone number. It took me several minutes digging into the courier’s website. Another example of bad customer experience – but, again, that is not the point of this post.

It was a Spanish courier. I was greeted by a Spanish-speaking IVR (lucky I’m Portuguese, so I’m able to understand) that asked 3 questions (department, reason, parcel number) before asking for a post-code.

I entered my post-code. The IVR said “Sorry, this is not a valid 5-digit Spanish post-code” and hung up. I was shocked and furious. Three things were wrong with this IVR setup:

  1. The company delivers abroad (in Europe) and only accepts Spanish post-codes
  2. The call is dropped without giving another chance to get post-code right
  3. There is no option to skip post-code and talk to a live agent

Having been around for a while and knowing how these systems work, I called again, gone through the first 3 questions, and when I got to the post-code question I entered “12345” (yes, I know… smart ass).

Any guesses?… of course, it accepted and got me through to the live agent, who quickly clarified why the parcel was delayed.

It doesn’t need to be like this. IVR doesn’t need to be the villain of the phone channel. IVR is a great technology that can enable great customer experiences, while making companies much more efficient.

IVR allows customers to interact via keypad or speech recognition. It can provide quick (pre-recorded) answers to our questions, avoiding wait. It can also put us through to the right agent / department, avoiding hand-offs.

From my point of view, the problem with most IVR we experience is twofold:

  1. IVR menus are often designed with a focus on the internal process and workflow. It makes things easier for the agent who picks up the phone, at the expense of customer effort – which is a massive driver of dissatisfaction and disloyalty.
  2. IVR menus are often poorly configured with an over-engineered setup. It uses complex features, that try to cover all possible scenarios, but makes it very painful and frustrating for the customer to navigate, oftentimes becoming a labyrinth without an exit.

So, in order to use this technology right my advice is:

  1. Design IVR trees with a customer-centric approach, and use layman’s terms and language;
  2. Keep IVR menus as short and simple as possible, with a maximum of 5 options (ideally 3), even if that requires agents asking additional questions – believe me, when it comes to the phone channel, that is much better than leaving customers lost in an IVR maze.
  3. Do not squeeze into the IVR menus irrelevant information or marketing messages (special offers, campaigns, etc.) – customers called you because they need help, not for you to try and shove another product down their throats.
  4. Monitor the IVR carefully and frequently, to check how customers are navigating through it, and if they are landing where they are actually going to be helped most. Check IVR route versus reason for calling.
  5. Allow customers to either correct their answer (if it is deemed invalid) or to go back and amend the previous answer.
  6. Always provide a shortcut to a live agent, even if that means compromising routing or personalisation. Customers who select this option will know they cannot expect agents to guess who they are and why they’re calling about.