Customers Want You to Take Things Personally

by guest blogger Laura Zegar (@LauraKZegar)

It’s 2014, and our customers expect us to know everything about them. They expect their information and preferences to be readily available across every customer channel – and they demand an excellent customer experience while doing so.

As customer expectations shift, companies are increasingly taking advantage of their customer data to shape a superior, unique experience for each customer.

Personalized IVRs are rapidly evolving in this direction. Built with customer interaction efficiency in mind, a personalized IVR tailors its greetings, options and/or scripts based on unique customer information. Essentially, a personalized IVR is the antithesis of the stereotypical IVR, where we repeat our selection multiple times, hear irrelevant offers and menu options, and feel like just another anonymous customer in a sea of millions.

With a personalized IVR, customers can explicitly select IVR preferences, while companies can proactively customize individual IVR experiences using customer preferences, data and history.

Customer-selected IVR preferences allow callers to choose the information a company uses to tailor their experience. Starwood Hotels customers who create a unique PIN, for example, can select personalized IVR preferences, including automatic recognition by phone number and reward points balance announcements. As a result, these customers can skip the IVR authentication process and automatically hear rewards information, eliminating common IVR transactions and streamlining their overall experience.

Callers can also select their greeting name upon entering an IVR. Take two customers named John Smith. The first may prefer to be formally addressed as “Mr. Smith,” while the second is comfortable with the more casual “John”. This is an easy opportunity for customers to foster a more personal connection to enhance their overall experience with a company.

Likewise, company-initiated IVR preferences yield significant opportunities to create unique customer interactions with tailored menu options, scripts and routing based on the caller’s location, status and previous interaction history.

Flexible IVR menus further enhance the customer experience by tailoring caller menu options to fit their customer profile and anticipated inquiries. An airline may customize its IVR menu options differently for frequent fliers with existing reservations vs. new customers. Frequent fliers might hear options for flight notification status, reservation changes or rewards transactions, while occasional customers hear options to book a new flight or enroll in the airline rewards program. Both customers are offered the most relevant selections, resulting in faster IVR navigation.

Many companies also tailor their IVR scripts based on customer data. For example, a cable company IVR may proactively ask customers with frequent billing inquiries if they are calling about their recent bill, rather than forcing them to wade through multiple prompts for the correct option. Callers might hear service outage messages based on customer geography or relevant marketing offers related to a specific product or service they recently inquired about. Again, the customer experience is simplified because the caller is greeted with relevant information without having to ask for it.

Finally, companies can also leverage their customer data to proactively route callers to specific or specialized queues. A cable customer classified as a high risk for churn, for instance, may be routed to a retention agent who addresses their inquiry while mitigating a potential service cancellation. Likewise, a caller who always selects the Spanish queue could automatically be routed there based on customer recognition, geography and interaction history. By proactively identifying the customer’s needs and connecting them to the best agent, companies minimize customer transfers and simplify issue resolution.

Personalized IVR options are beneficial as standalone offerings, but when combined together into an overall IVR strategy, the effect is powerful. Let’s look at the impact on overall customer experience:

John Smith calls his wireless provider with questions about his latest bill. He is immediately bombarded with a message about a service outage nowhere near his geographic area, and cannot select the Spanish IVR option until the message is finished. John goes through several layers of menu options before locating the correct billing option.

He is then transferred to a general customer service agent. Although the agent addresses John’s inquiry, he is frustrated at the work and time needed to reach the agent.

John goes through the same process several months in a row, his overall frustration increasing with each call. He indicates to agents that he is thinking of canceling his service.

One day, he logs into his online customer account and is prompted to select his greeting name for future IVR calls. He selects “John” and decides to call customer service about his bill. The IVR automatically recognizes him by caller ID, greets him as “John”, and asks in Spanish if he is calling about his bill. John says yes and is automatically routed to a Spanish-speaking retention agent based on his classification as a high churn risk customer.

The agent assists him with his bill inquiry and proactively addresses his concerns. Based on the interaction, John decides not to cancel his service, impressed by his effortless customer experience.

Pretty compelling story, isn’t it?

As you can see, John’s customer experience and view of the company increased with each proactive step the company took, from greeting him upon entering the IVR all the way to routing him to a retention agent equipped to address his concerns.

His initial frustration, created largely by the work needed to reach an agent, mounted with each IVR roadblock he encountered. Because John was calling specifically to speak with an agent, he remained on the line, but not all customers are willing to do so. Faced with an impersonal, complicated menu for a simple self-service transaction, customers may skip the IVR altogether and go directly to an agent. Worse, they may hang up – and take their business elsewhere.

But if customers reach an IVR that knows who they are and what they want, they are more likely to walk away feeling satisfied by the ease and personal touch of their experience.

Gone are the days where a one-size-fits-all interaction works for customers – or companies. As the customer service world becomes increasingly self-service and multichannel-centric, personalization plays a key role in helping companies foster superior customer service and loyalty.

Only time will tell how much greater a role personalization will play in customer experience enhancement. In the meantime, take a look at the IVRs you call. How do they measure up on personalization?