Don’t Blame the Technology

Anyone who’s used an automated phone service rarely has anything good to say about it.

—Dean Burnett of the Guardian

Ah, that old chestnut again. Burnett’s article in the Guardian newspaper, On-Hold Hell: Why Automated Phone Systems Are Infuriating, is a mostly funny slam of automated voice systems.

What it leaves out, however, is that implementation strategies have as big an effect on modern IVR performance and the customer experience as the technology itself does.

A Dated Approach

The crux of Mr. Burnett’s article is that waiting on hold stinks and companies shouldn’t do it to us. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that sentiment—no one likes to wait on hold. However, it shouldn’t be an issue in the first place—with modern IVR systems, no one needs to wait on hold.

Having a voice app as an answering service and nothing else is old school. The fact that companies are still choosing this strategy doesn’t alter that fact; it just illustrates the need for a change.

Modern voice apps, through self-service, can handle all but the most complicated customer calls, freeing up live agents. It can also scale to handle call spikes. And even with a live-agent-only approach, there are third-party callback services available today. There’s no reason for a customer to wait on hold anymore.

What IVR Technology Can Do

IVR is for enhancing the customer experience, not kyboshing it. Companies using it to keep people on hold, avoid taking their calls, lower their customer service costs without improving customer service—any of that—aren’t using it correctly.

Quality Depends on Who Designs It

In the last couple weeks, I’ve actually written three posts on this topic: Don’t Let Call Spikes Sink the Customer Experience, How to Not Ruin the Customer Experience with Automation and How IVR Dictates the Customer Experience.

I won’t rehash everything I say in those posts. However, I will say that Burnett is absolutely right—companies, in general, have to be more thoughtful about how they implement their automated voice systems.

Here’s how it works: 1) vendors develop platforms on which companies can build their voice applications, 2) the companies build their apps, 3) some apps are good, a lot more are bad, unfortunately.

While I’m hesitant to use the “it’s not the technology, it’s the implementation” line…it’s not the technology, it’s the implementation. (Would you blame Twitter for a tweet you don’t like?) And Burnett is right to be fired up.

“It boils down to a company trying to placate customers who may have a genuine grievance, and doing it using a machine,” he writes.

In some cases, that may be true. But I’d wager that it’s more often a lack of expertise on the part of whoever designed the voice app. Regardless, it’s something organizations need to address.

For more information on better design and implementation, see 5 tips to avoid putting customers on hold.

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