Best Practices for Self-Service Automation

Any carpenter worth their sawdust will tell you that measuring twice and cutting once saves a lot of time down the line. The same idea applies to building an IVR for automated customer self-service. Taking the extra time in the planning phase to create a solution that caters to its end-users will save resources down the line. The following guidelines will help you do just that.

As a company that deals with voice-based customer self-service automation we’ve heard all of the things people say about IVR. All too often people label it as an unfriendly technology. But that’s like blaming the golf club for not hitting a hole-in-one. The problem isn’t with the technology, it’s with the implementation.

The guiding principal when creating or optimizing a customer self-service solution is to think about what information customers want the most and what data users need to provide in order to obtain that information. Once you know these details, the challenge becomes delivering that experience in the most user-friendly and efficient way possible.

When designing automated self-service IVR applications, keep these best practices in mind.


Average Call Time

It’s not just that users want information, they want it fast, too. This means that your self-service option should be designed so as to keep phone call times as low as possible. Use call analytics to show which menu options users select most often. Put those menu options first and less popular ones towards the end of any menu.

Number of Prompts
: It’s easy to get carried away with excessive prompting, but the more prompts/menus callers encounter, the longer calls are. Over-confirmation is a frequent culprit here. That’s the practice of verifying every input a caller makes. Confirmation is certainly useful, but if you feel compelled to confirm user inputs, then include it once before the transaction completes.

Websites don’t ask you if you’re sure if you want to add an item to your cart every time you do so. They wait until checkout and let your review everything at that point. Employ that same idea with an automated self-service application. At the same time, be conscious of the limitations of the voice medium and its ability to present everything at once. Balance is key here.

Prompt Text: Keep prompts informative, but brief. All prompts consist of two pieces of information: 1. The information, and 2. The instructions. As simple as it sounds, placing the information before the instructions help to reduce call time.

For example, “For Customer Service, press 1” is better than “Press 1 for Customer Service.”

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, callers intuitively will associate the first menu option with the number 1, and successive options with the next sequential number. Even if they don’t, by the time they get to the second or third menu option it will be pretty clear that the selections are in numerical order. Second, because of this intuitive awareness about selection order, the information component is more important than the instructions. The idea of leading with your strength carries some weight here. After all, end-users call you to get information, so giving them information first accomplishes that goal.

Bargeable Prompts: Allowing callers to “barge-in” on, or interrupt, prompts helps to keep call length down. This is especially critical for repeat users. Once callers know which options correspond with each menu selection they want to won’t want to wait until each prompt finishes to make their choice.


Data Input

Users want information, but they need to be able to tell you what info they want, specifically. Therefore, determining what information to gather and what collection methods to use bear consideration.

Identification Data: Think about the format that identification data must take. How many digits go into invoice, account, or confirmation numbers? If you ask for a birthday, will you require a two-digit or a four-digit year? Determining these parameters at the outset and prompting users appropriately will reduce the number of errors that callers experience when using self-service.

Speech Recognition: Do you want to give callers the choice of speaking their selection or are they limited to pressing keys? Does the flexibility of providing two input methods trump having longer prompts explaining how to do so? Do you require multiple language support? If so, how does that impact your decision to use speech recognition?

DTMF Conventions: Be aware of standard DTMF conventions and how/if you want to present those to users. Typical DTMF functions include:

  • * (star key) – Return to the main menu
  • # (pound sign) – Terminating character, similar to the “Enter” key on a keyboard
  • 0 (zero) – Exit self-service application and speak to an agent/representative/operator.

When making use of special key presses, such as the DTMF conventions, be sure to keep them the same for every menu in your application.


Additional Considerations

There are a few other principles to keep in mind when designing your automated self-service application.

Audio Interface: Anticipating and planning for the nuances of an audio interface is critical for successful self-service applications. The audio interface requires greater consideration of the steps that go into decision-making. Forethought and planning help to ensure an efficient, user-friendly self-service application.

Error Handling: People will make mistakes when using your application. Sometimes users will input wrong selection or fail to enter any choice at all. You need to be prepared to handle these errors. Best practice is to give users three (3) attempts, one initial try and then two additional opportunities, before initiating the error process.

Professional Voice Talent: Employing professional voice talent that uses real studio equipment goes a long way. Audio that is not properly normalized, compressed, noise-reduced, and/or encoded will sound bad, or it might not work at all. Also, make sure your voice talent is suited to your core audience because the gender and age of the voice in your prompts can make a difference.

Balance TTS: While professionally recorded prompts make your system sound better, sometimes it makes more sense to use text-to-speech (TTS) technology. To avoid choppy audio, don’t mix pre-recorded audio with TTS. When dealing with dynamic variables, e.g., time, date, numbers, days of the week, it’s more efficient to use TTS for the entire prompt. That said, we recommend using recorded prompts whenever possible.

Personalization: Personalizing communications significantly enhances customer experience with an automated self-service option. Connecting your self-service application to your CRM allows you to make the most of this dynamic. The type of personalization will vary depending on your industry/business, but you should aim to identify customers by name and then present them with some other piece of information that demonstrates that your company knows them. Making customers feel that they aren’t just another face in the crowd or are defined by their account number fosters trust toward your company.

Operator Access: Although the goal of self-service is to provide information to users without relying on live agents sometimes a situation arises when a user requires human intervention. Therefore, it’s best to give users some way to reach a person, whether that’s on the phone or leaving a message.

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