IVR, CTI, and the Need to Act Now

by Jeffrey Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

If you have not had the opportunity to read Daniel Harris’s report on IVR design over at telecom review organization Software Advice’s site,  and you work in the customer care/call center space, do yourself a favor and get started on some light reading. The findings are quite interesting and merit a conversation (or perhaps a look in the mirror?) to gain a better understanding for how progress can be made within the industry. First, let’s tip our caps to Daniel Harris, who, in the course of his research, dialed up 50 Fortune 500 companies and researched their IVRs. I have enough frustration getting through the phone tree for my cable company or to change my flight; this young man has a high tolerance for pain. 

For the sake of brevity, I’ll summarize the findings and offer my own take based on the metrics that stuck out at me. The first surprise is that 65% of IVR’s wait until the third menu to offer any support from an agent. See the chart below where 1 denotes 1st menu and yes, there are some companies, evidently, who wait until the 8th menu to offer support from a real human being!


I’ve written about this before, and it still baffles me how businesses continue to ignore the needs of the customer when businesses like gethuman.com have literally built a business model out of the backwards-thinking mindsets of cost-conscious call center managers. At the Future Call Center Summit last January, Ashutosh Anil of Best Buy Canada spoke about turning the “cost center” (call center) into a “profit center.” It is not until customer care professionals look at the long term gains of being “inefficient” now that we might ever make progress on this front. That is, while it may indeed be costly in the short term to exact some of the change that would move the needle on the metrics above, the interactions might be so much more pleasant that indeed the businesses turn a profit in the long run. Unsurprisingly, when I call JetBlue’s Mosaic line, I have two options in the opening menu, and one of them is to speak to an agent. Although I love JetBlue’s customer service, surely this is only because I am a Mosaic member. Whenever I call, I gasp, because it seems too good to be true that I do not have to “zero out” to get to an agent, but I can just press “2” instead. It’s weird how both buttons get me to the same place but how much more I admire JetBlue when I press “2” instead of “0”. This is what I mean by building brand loyalty in the long-run. Yes, JetBlue spends more money to talk to me on the phone now, but earning a customer’s loyalty is hardly, if ever, free.

Something else that stuck out at me is that nearly half of the IVR’s are not voice-enabled:


So, you’re telling me that the robot can speak to me, but I cannot speak back? If you are going to take personality out of the equation with your brand, you can at least make the customer feel like they are not also as robotic and unautonomous as your brand, no? We here at Next Caller have tested IVR’s ourselves, and I know personally from trying to fool Interactions’ IVR that the right provider can do a really good job of understanding people with various lingos and accents, which brings more personality back into the equation and helps more customers get what they need. 

The list goes on, and even mentions cases in which the IVR hangs up on the customer. You get the idea: we have a long way to go. As someone who speaks to large and small companies every single day, I cannot say I am surprised. We have written about the advantages and disadvantages of working with big companies, and it is certainly not always the case that bigger means better. Many of the Fortune 500 are not even CTI-enabled, which means their agents are still using telephones from the 1980’s and manually inputting the customer information into a computer. 

The point of this post is not to disparage the professionals in the industry; in fact, quite the opposite. Technology moves at a fast pace, and it is hard to keep up. And look at how far the industry has come – you can use so many channels today that you could not use 20 years ago, that it is almost no surprise at all that phone support may not always be “up to speed” so to speak. It’s not easy to manage so many channels.

That being said, trends can show us where we need to spend our focus. And the trend right now is that everything is moving to the cloud. Plain and simple. While decision-makers can elect to implement the technology they truly need to be successful one or two years from now, those one or two years are just going to be lost time where their competitors made a significant push. By getting to the cloud now, by implementing cloud-based systems and getting away from the clunky on-premise solutions, a million headaches are solved now rather than later. And sometimes you need to take one step backward in order to take two steps forward. What am I saying? Think outside the box. Although a certain measure may be costly now, it may ultimately yield unforeseen profits down the road. And although making the jump from a legacy provider to something innovative can be daunting, it is almost always worth the jump across the chasm.