I have never met a person who likes to call customer service 800-numbers. Even people working in the contact center industry hate calling other companies because we have no faith the person on the other end can competently help us (I love the irony. :)).
But sometimes there is no way around it. I understand the need for call centers, and I’ve been happily employed at two during my career. But as a customer, the bane of my existence is the IVR!
If you are not familiar with call center lingo, IVRs are the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems used to route calls. Most products or services today are complicated, and IVRs route calls to specifically skilled representatives based on the customers interaction with a computer voiced prompt. The end result is typically some agents are trained to answer some questions, and other agents can answer other questions.
The problem with IVRs is they put too much artificial distance between the customer and the service provider. What begins as a benign situation easily escalates into something else, and it is due to technology that is supposed to help, but it only serves to put up a wall between two people who need each other. That is the antithesis to customer service excellence.
The Typical Situation
Me: Places call. I’m in good mood, but I have braced myself for this call. I know what is coming. You know you have been here too.
Business: Call answers with an IVR. Professional automated voice answers: “Thank you for calling Business ABC. Most questions can be answered at our website www.businessabc.com.” IVR has not paused for breath yet.
Me: Internal dialogue begins. “Don’t thank me yet for my call. You have no idea what is coming. If I could have found out the answer through your website, I would have, but your website stinks.”
Business: IVR continues. “For our office hours, press 1. For directions to our office, press 2. For our fax number, press 3.”
Me: Internal dialogue starts again. “As crummy as your website is, I could have at least got this information.”
Here is the dollar impact. So far the call has lasted two minutes and I am no closer to an answer to my question, and my mood is beginning to sour. This is a real cost because when I finally get the agent, I am going to be ticked and spend at least 3 minutes letting them know I am unhappy.
Business: IVR continues. “For billing, please press 4.”
Me: Internal dialogue continues. “I do not have a billing issue. I have a kind of in-between issue.”
Business: IVR continues. “To schedule service, please press 5.”
Me: Internal dialogue again, “Well, that sounds closer, but I have a real problem, not a regular service call. What do I do?”
Business: IVR continues, “To repeat this menu, please press 6.”
Me: Internal thought, “ARGGGGG!!!!! I can’t remember what option was what, and what applied to me.” I am returned to the IVR of repetitive destruction! Noooooooooo!
The Saga Continues…
I finally reach a real person to explain my problem. After the agent takes 2 minutes to verify it is actually me calling about my account, they realize they do not have either the information or the authority to help me. I am transferred and get thrown back to the IVR! Noooooo!!!
When I reach a second agent, after another 2 minutes verifying it is me again, and another 3 minutes me explaining my issue, they too discover they cannot service my call. It takes me 30 minutes to find someone who can help me, but when I finally do it takes the agent 5 minutes to explain the answer to my question.
Even with this final answer, I leave the phone call not very confident that I have the correct information. I am 80% sure if I went through this entire process again that I would get a different answer from a different agent. That is not the feeling you want your customers to have after any interaction with your organization.
It’s not as if this happens with one company. This is something that occurs almost every time I call a company for assistance. It could be my cable bill, my mortgage company, my bank, or another company I have a relationship with. Sadly, the list does not seem to end.
The Guru’s Solution
My radical and preferred solution is if you truly desire to deliver superior customer service, then ditch the IVR. This is a revolutionary idea, but the idea of a human voice answering the phone will immediately demonstrate to your customers you care. I also just don’t think I could be convinced that the additional minutes in phone cost for misroutes or the aggravation it adds to the customer, which will reflect poorly in service surveys, that it is worth it. IVRs are expensive to operate and my theory is if your organization answered the phone with a live agent, the reduced minutes in phone calls would easily balance or reduce cost.
What I suggest is make the ‘operator’ role a job to be coveted. Rotate your best agents in and out of the role, and pay them a slight shift differential to work it. These agents should be the employees who are your top skilled people, and they are the friendliest of your team. Being that operator can be a monotonous position, so help it become a role that agents aspire to. The ‘operator’ shows that the agent is valued for their superior service and expertise.
If you feel you can’t go there, then at least review how to qualify calls and the clarity of your IVR system. Customers are annoyed to be asked multiple times for verification. I would advocate no cold transferring either. Again it is radical, but would your agents think twice about transferring a call? You bet!
In summary, make sure any technology used in your organization enhances the customer experience. We seem to mistake internal business efficiencies gained by using various technologies as improving the customer service experience. But what benefits the organization does not always benefit your customers. The power of the human voice will always trump computer automation.
As always, if the Gurus can help, please let us know. Now for our office hours, please press 1.