Love / Hate with IVR


Love / Hate with IVR

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  December 13, 2013

IVRs – you either hate them or you hate them. At least that’s been the case for most people most of the time. I moderated a webinar earlier this week about modern uses for IVR systems and got to thinking about why businesses have been so poor at creating good IVRs (and so adept at making customers avoid them like the plague).

Irv Shapiro (News - Alert), CEO at ifbyphone, made one observation, that most IVRs have been deployed with cost savings in mind. That seemed to be more tolerable than today – perhaps even acceptable for many, as their world wasn’t as mobile or connected as it is today. Of course, intolerance is part of this new digital, instant gratification world where users are much more fickle than ever.

That said, I noted during the webinar that it feels as though businesses have designed IVRs absent of any real consideration of the user – the customer, that is.

The most frustrating feature, of course, is the IVR’s capacity for requesting account information, and the agent’s need to ask for it again once you are connected – that is, if you are able to reach an actual agent, considering the most annoying feature of most IVRs is the lack of instruction on how to get from Mr. Roboto to a live agent. So, you push button after button, which sometimes works, but other times sends the IVR into what seems like an endless tailspin as penance for entering an incorrect response.

Moving to the end of the interaction, there are those incessant post-call surveys, but you never know how long they are and weren’t given the option to opt out. In fact, you often aren’t even notified of their existence, which likely reduces response rates even more, as customers hang up quickly. Similarly, after calling your issuing bank and activating a new credit card, you have the pleasure of listening to a seemingly endless list of offers that you can’t opt out of – but you also aren’t sure if hanging up before the system tells you it’s OK to will cause your card to not become activated.

What’s my point? As I listened to the webinar, entitled, “9 New Ways to Use IVR to Improve Your Marketing, Sales, and Support,” I really started to wonder why more businesses fail in their IVR implementations. There are several cases where businesses I’ve dealt with have successfully leveraged IVR to make my life as a customer easier and more pleasant – in other words, they leverage technology to deliver a better experience.

One was a cable operator which, as it turns out, has to send a signal to new boxes once they have been installed in order to activate them. Until recently, that had to be done by waiting on hold, sometimes for excruciatingly long periods of time, to have an agent effectively push a button. Talk about endless frustration with a service category with which customers are inherently dissatisfied to begin with.  Alas, the provider has since created a reasonably easy to navigate IVR that allows customers to manage this process without any waiting. It’s still not clear how to get out of the system to a live agent, but it’s a start.

Another vendor I’ve used found a way of collecting experience data without being intrusive or annoying at all. In fact, its approach actually made me want to provide feedback. Why? I was told what, why, and how long the experience would be – and not by an automated system. 

The bottom line really is that IVR has gotten a bad rap – perhaps rightfully so – but the slap on the hands should go to those individuals implementing the systems. As with any technology, success rests with proper deployment and usage. Be creative, be smart, and be customer-focused with your IVR, and you will find much more interaction with your customers and a parallel increase in satisfaction levels. And check out the webinar archive to hear some of the neat ways businesses are leveraging IVR today (

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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