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Speech Technology Magazine NewsBlast – Donna’s View 

Speech Technology Magazine NewsBlast – Donna’s View

Speech Technology Magazine NewsBlast – Donna’s View

5/3/2006
By Donna Fluss
Speech Technology Magazine

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Touchtone and speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) systems have a bad reputation and deservedly so. Companies have created unnecessary frustration and dissatisfaction for customers by forcing them into a maze of automated IVR options, making it difficult to reach live agents. This situation is a product of the mistaken belief that use of the self-service IVR option will decrease if customers have easy access to live assistance. This is simply not good service and customers will find a way to reach agents, no matter how difficult companies make it for them. The good news, though, is that there are now standard ways out of most IVR applications and lists of default keys are finally becoming available to the public.

IVR Best Practices Drive Success

There are many proven IVR best practices that improve customer satisfaction and increase the IVR utilization rate. Although applying the best practices may be costly in the short term, the expense is outweighed by the long-term benefits in cost savings and customer satisfaction. A well-designed IVR will actually promote customers’ willingness to use the self-service option. A positive experience with the system’s convenience and ease of use will make a customer likely to use the IVR again and even try out additional automated options. (Unfortunately, the reverse is also true, as one negative experience can drive a customer away from the IVR permanently.)

Before companies can address their IVR challenges, they must accept the fact that customers are unhappy with the current system. A poorly designed IVR is unacceptable. Poor design includes systems where customers have to re-enter account or other personal data when transferred from the system to live agents. IVR scripts must be updated and re-written regularly in order to maintain their effectiveness. Upgrading from touchtone systems to speech recognition is another opportunity for IVR applications to perform significantly better.

Make it Easy for Customers to Access Agents

The most important and fundamental best practice is to make it easy for customers to access agents. Studies have found that being locked into the automated system is customers’ leading complaint. Keep in mind that providing access to agents will not significantly reduce IVR usage. Instead, it will prevent customer aggravation and dissatisfaction and ultimately promote use of the self-service option.

It’s also essential to limit the number of automated options in the IVR. Customers are only human and cannot remember more than a few options at a time. Providing too many choices will only cause customers to forget the earliest selections and opt out to agents, defeating the purpose of the self-service system. A limited number of well-targeted choices, responsive to the customer needs, will increase customers’ inclination to use your IVR.

The Script Matters

Speech recognition is a friendly and flexible user interface that should be accompanied by a script that makes the system easy to use. IVR scripts must reflect customer wants and needs. Script writing specialists, not programmers, are the best choice for creating an appealing and efficient experience. Scripts must be adapted as business needs change or the system is enhanced, such as when speech recognition technology is introduced. As scripts are updated and changed, it’s important to test them on customers before fully rolling them out. It’s also necessary to review and monitor the script on an ongoing basis to make sure that it is still addressing customers’ preferences, which change over time.

Final Thoughts

IVR applications are powerful solutions with flexible technology that is capable of so much more than it is being used for today. These systems can handle most of the calls that do not require costly human assistance, significantly improving the overall performance and financial benefits of the customer service environment. It is critical to implement best practices so that companies can leverage the power of their IVRs and turn these applications from hated technology into valuable, customer-friendly cost saving tools.

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