The global interactive voice response market has a projected 7% CAGR through 2023, with revenues of more than $3.7 billion USD. This is because IVR has been proven to benefit both customers and companies:
- For customers, surveys have established that they prefer to use the voice channel because it’s familiar to them; further, they appreciate the convenience of handling their own issues on their own time when the process is quick and easy.
- For companies, having a human answer the phone is expensive, so implementing a self-service channel really does reduce costs to pennies on the dollar.
That, then, is the potential today’s voice channel is growing into. However, over the past few decades and leading up to this point, interactive voice response (IVR) was likely the customer service tool that inspired the most conflicted responses. The reasons for this include:
- People instinctively miss the days when a human answered the phone; calls were quick, direct, productive, and personal. You may notice these are still your customers’ goals for voice channel interactions.
- IVR has historically been structured to benefit the company, not the customer. For example, when the purpose of the automated system was to cut customer service costs, it benefited the company to obscure the path reach a human agent.
- Customers, of course, noticed this labyrinthine practice and were deeply frustrated by it. Perhaps the only thing they found more frustrating was to be left sitting on hold with no recourse.
So how do you transform your IVR to live up to its potential? The key to eliminating any conflict around your voice channel is to turn your customers’ call experience back into a fundamentally human one that focuses on them. With that in mind, here are a few windows into improving your voice channel customer experience, lowering customer frustration, and improving your business’ chances for future growth and success.
The Latest Technologies
Today, the basis of great IVR is voice self-service. Customers want their issues resolved quickly, and self-service allows you to both collect and disseminate information as your customers request it. Then they can complete common, simple tasks like making payments, changing appointment times or ordering refills.
The next step is to connect your IVR not only to your CRM, but to your other customer service channels such as web and mobile. Then your system can identify your customers by name, purchases, and even previous actions like webpages visited and self-service actions. Your customers are greeted by name and asked if they wish to continue a previous activity – and they never have to explain a problem twice, even when they’re transferred to an agent.
Artificial intelligence is doing even more to put the “voice” in voice channel. Advances in natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning are fueling the spike in IVR growth, making it increasingly sophisticated, capable and flexible. (Read on for details.)
As mentioned above, most companies began designing their IVR systems to focus primarily on their own goals, which is 180 degrees from today’s customer expectations. To get your IVR back on track, begin by thinking through the customer’s self-service journey – not just what information your callers want, but also how and when to present that information to facilitate their convenience.
One great benefit of today’s technology is that you can collect reams of data on what steps which callers are already taking within your system. Then you can meticulously plan and map every major goal your customers try to achieve over the phone, building your menu to streamline every step toward each goal. For instance, if you know that a certain percentage of your callers are not interested in self-service but are instead looking for an agent, it’s easy to delight them by offering a path directly to an agent early in the call and then again at certain junctures in the call process.
Consider not only the what but the how of your menus. Options should be clear and concise, and callers shouldn’t have to wait through unnecessary messages to get to the menu. For instance, one rule of thumb is that the time between the beginning of the welcome message and the end of the last main menu prompt should not exceed 30 seconds. In fact, we believe that proper menuing can keep the bulk of your transactional calls under 90 seconds – and that’s beneficial to both you and your customers.
Finally, AI-powered IVR applications cut to the chase by eliminating the need for any menus. Your customers specify exactly what they want to do in their own words and are automatically routed to the most appropriate place. These apps can even analyze customers’ emotional states and prepare agents to respond appropriately.
Obsessively Kept Current
Historically, another problem with IVR has been that many companies have tended to “fix it and forget it.” This simply doesn’t work in today’s fast-paced marketplace. Any time anything that is reflected in your self-service channel (such as product lines, promotional messages, even company acquisitions and branding) changes in the real world, it must also be updated in your voice environment. Taking the voice channel out of a silo and broadening its interactions throughout the company increases awareness as to what needs to be kept current. Build a multi-disciplinary team tasked with regularly testing and updating your IVR offerings. At the same time, ensure your customer service agents are completely familiar with the self-service system and are equipped with the tools, processes, and policies to do their jobs well and to deliver a great customer experience.
Ask The Experts
Once your renovated voice channel debuts, the best way to determine its success is to ask your customers about their experience. Automated post-call surveys that are designed to be quick and relevant will help you understand your customers and their needs, pain points, and problems. Take these clues and put your voice channel into a consistent, ongoing loop of process improvement – and watch your customer service metrics soar.
Speaking of experts, Plum Voice has a recommendation for building a successful, cutting-edge IVR: Invest in a platform like Plum Fuse that offers pre-built applications, shortens development cycles, and rapidly accelerates testing and deployment timelines. Our built-in analytics and reporting make it easy to continually optimize applications for great customer experiences. Curious to try our cutting-edge IVR technology? Sign up to get a free trial today.