3 Ways to Modernize Your IVR and Transform the Customer Experience

“I was on hold for about 15 minutes… The hold music was bad enough… they decided to interrupt the music every 2 minutes with some stupid health tip.”

“I always give them a 1 out of 10 on the survey… Your IVR is completely draconian! Fire your IVR team.”

These are typical consumer rants about their IVR experiences. In fact, 85% of consumers hate their IVR experiences, per Accenture.

There is the adage: “First impression is the best impression.” IVRs are the entry point for voice callers for most, if not all, businesses. Yet too many companies stumble on this critical first step in the customer journey. In fact, a hot-off-the-press SurveyMonkey-eGain consumer research study showed that IVR experiences are miserable end to end. The survey respondents had in the recent past interacted with IVR systems of businesses and government agencies through their smartphones.

Key survey findings

  • 88% of respondents said that the IVRs were not intelligent enough, with 38% saying they were unintelligent or somewhat unintelligent
  • 60% zeroed out to a human operator very often or often, and an additional 26% somewhat often
  • 67% wrestled with the IVR for 5 minutes or longer, 41% for 15 minutes or longer, before trying to get to an agent
  • 70% waited for 5 minutes or longer to get the human agent on the phone upon escalation; 43% for 15 minutes or longer
  • A whopping 73% had to repeat information they had already entered at the IVR to the human agent
  • 44% said they got different answers from different touchpoints

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A poorly designed IVR undermines the brand’s customer experience (CX) vision and reflects badly on its products, services, and reputation. Customers grow increasingly enraged when they’re trapped in a queue with no options except to suffer through a long wait… or hang up. Some choose the latter and are gone forever, but not without ranting about their terrible experience with friends, family, co-workers, and on social media sites.

Callers often feel pushed to the breaking point by the time they reach a human agent—having wrestled with the IVR and waited for the human agent, sometimes up to an hour or more! This also puts undue stress and pressure on the contact center agent, who must first calm an angry and emotional customer before attempting to resolve the reason for the call.

It’s no surprise that the majority of consumers (85%) say they hate the IVR experience, according to an Accenture survey.

Besides negatively affecting the customer experience, the adverse impact on customer loyalty means that outdated IVR technology cannot deliver the cost-savings originally intended, and actually drives up costs because of process inefficiencies, missed sales opportunities, and lost customers.

Customers have been complaining about IVRs for decades. So why are companies still overlooking the customer pain caused by this critical first touchpoint? The absence of insight into customers’ true IVR experiences may account for the lack of urgency to modernize IVRs.

According to McKinsey & Company, IVR systems often are built in isolation from newer digital channels and are not integrated into the end-to-end customer journey. Since most companies design IVRs to cut contact center costs rather than enhance customer experience, they only track call-containment rates and not customer satisfaction.

The ubiquitous smartphone—a customer service game-changer for IVRs and beyond

For the majority, the device of choice is a smartphone, and the preferred communication channel is text messaging. According to Pew Research, 81% of Americans own smartphones, and texting is the most widely and frequently used app on a smartphone, with 97% percent of Americans using it at least once a day.

In fact, a majority of consumers favor texting over calling in their personal lives and wish to do the same when interacting with businesses.

A Harris Interactive Poll found that 64% of consumers would rather text than call for customer service.

Customer on smartphone on IVR customer careForward-thinking companies have taken note of these evolving consumer preferences, along with the smartphone’s popularity and blendable multichannel capabilities, and have incorporated messaging into their customer engagement practices. In addition to basic customer service and support, these companies regularly connect with customers via messaging to send quick surveys, informational links, order updates, shipment tracking, updates, product offers, appointment reminders, and more.

Despite explosive adoption of digital channels and messaging by consumers, businesses with IVR systems are not taking advantage of today’s smartphone customer. They don’t provide digital service options to smartphone callers on hold at their legacy IVRs. Plus, they struggle to get insights into the IVR journeys of callers.

Businesses don’t provide digital service options to smartphone callers on hold at their legacy IVRs. Plus, they struggle to get insights into the IVR journeys of callers.

COVID accelerated shifting customer preferences and business priorities

The shift to messaging was already well underway when COVID-19 erupted. The disruption of service operations and hold times that mushroomed from seconds to hours outraged customers and contributed to considerably higher stress and burnout within the frontline ranks.

The most common IVR complaints

  • Repeated calls to customer service lines that were never answered;
  • Endlessly looped IVR recordings; and
  • Having to navigate confusing service mazes without finding a resolution.

The sudden impact of the pandemic exposed gaps and vulnerabilities in businesses’ service operations and served as a tipping point for digital technology adoption. According to McKinsey & Company, the significant shift by consumers to online channels during the COVID crisis forced companies to accelerate the digitization of customer interactions by as much as three years.

For most consumers, communication preferences and behaviors have permanently changed.

  • Forrester predicts that consumers who used digital channels for the first time during the pandemic will continue to do so, driving a 40% increase in digital customer service interactions in 2021.
  • Forrester also estimates that organizations will expand their customer service channels from 8 to 11 to include a broader range of asynchronous messaging channels.

The contact center’s transition from a largely on-premise workforce to a work-at-home model also is likely to continue. The move from temporary to permanent remote work has more companies looking to ramp up the adoption of cloud-based platforms to allow customers to self-serve and agents to work easily, securely, and effectively from home.

The Modern IVR Experience: 3 Ways to Add Value

The rise of digital engagement signals a watershed event for old-style menu-tree structured IVR systems. To create a holistic customer journey, contact centers will need to enhance every touchpoint to reflect customers’ demands for anywhere, anytime access.

What are the elements of a modern IVR that will transform this critical touchpoint from an exasperating ordeal into a best-in-class customer experience? Digital connectivity, AI solutions, and omnichannel analytics.

1. Connect customers seamlessly to digital channels

One of the biggest drawbacks of older IVR systems is the lack of digital connectivity. The problem is that legacy IVRs exist in a silo—they typically have been designed to meet the needs of the business rather than its customers. Customers, however, consider their experience with a company holistically. They don’t see the individual departments and functions that take place within the organization. From the customer’s view, the digital experience is not a separate journey.

The capability to connect customers seamlessly to digital channels is key. It’s safe to say that callers with routine requests appreciate alternatives to a lengthy wait time. Smartphone users, especially, value the convenience of connecting to digital options to quickly resolve their issues.

Consider this: A leading online retailer was recently flooded with phone calls for order status updates and returns due to increased demand during the holiday shopping season and shipping delays. To reduce wait time, the retailer quickly deployed an overlay smart IVR solution from eGain to provide smartphone callers with a simple way to resolve their inquiries through agent-assisted messaging.

Here’s how it works: A smartphone lookup allows the IVR to identify callers with those devices and offers them a digital messaging option. Based on the context collected from callers’ responses, the IVR can send customers a relevant link to the company’s website where customers can find the answers to their questions without losing their place in the queue.

Connect IVR to digital channelsFor customers who require more interaction with the company, the smart IVR can send a link to a messaging app where callers can interact with an AI-powered virtual assistant—a lifelike conversational chatbot that understands intent and can answer questions, offer useful shopping advice, help customers navigate the website and, if necessary, can seamlessly escalate to a human agent with the context intact so the customer doesn’t have to start over or repeat the information they’ve already communicated.

The online retailer was able to deploy the smart IVR solution in just seven days. The company immediately identified a high acceptance rate for digital messaging among smartphone callers, deflecting 30% of callers to messaging. 80% of consumers, who opted for messaging, were able to successfully complete their journey through messaging without having to wait at the IVR. The ability to divert the calls to the digital channel also reduced the cost of service for the retailer since agents were able to handle up to four concurrent chats.

IVR Practical Pointer

Keep IVR system greetings and menu option descriptions simple and brief; the industry standard is under 8 seconds each. That may not sound like a long time, but it can feel like an eternity to a busy or impatient caller.

2. Solve customers’ issues quickly and consistently

Gone (or nearly) are the days of old school approaches to first-call resolution, which relied heavily on the expertise and tribal knowledge shared among contact center staff.

Today’s best-in-class IVR experience is one that solves the customer’s issue quickly using a next-gen knowledge management (KM) system that leverages AI reasoning to deliver self-service information in a dynamic and personalized way. Machine learning continuously improves the software’s ability to understand the customer’s intent.

For human-assisted service, the KM system augments the agent’s ability to resolve customers’ issues by providing conversational guidance in the form of an interactive Q&A session, prompting the agent with what questions to ask and what steps to take next. With this capability, even novice agents can confidently and expertly deliver a superior service experience, upsell or cross-sell products and services, and ensure regulatory compliance.

IVR Practical Pointer

Don’t make customers repeat themselves when they’re connected to a new channel or escalated to a live agent. Ensure that any information provided by the caller within the IVR, such as authentication and account information, and the context for any actions they have taken, is shared across channels.

3. Optimize the customer journey with insights

Data analytics plays a critical role in customer-centric decision-making. The modern IVR provides contact center leaders with much-needed analytics of the customer’s IVR experience.

The ability to analyze stages in the customers’ IVR journey, capture trends, and pinpoint reasons for abandonment or call escalation will help leaders to proactively identify ways to improve call resolution outcomes, reduce costs, and improve caller satisfaction.

IVR Practical Pointer

Your IVR system prompts should be designed for the customer, not for the business. Use short sentences and everyday words; avoid using obscure references and company-specific jargon or acronyms. Go with a tool that is friendly to business users so you can avoid the long wait for IT help in tweaking your IVR scripts.

Getting started

As the pace of digital transformation continues to accelerate, businesses are shaking off technology that is unprogressive and processes that hinder service delivery in a fast-changing environment.

Contact center leaders are looking for ways to infuse more agility into the organization. Out-of-date IVR technology has no place in a customer-centric operation that thrives on the ability to adapt instantly to meet changing demand and preferences in a digital world. The fastest way to get there without throwing away your current IVR investment is to modernize it with an overlay solution for AI-powered digitalization.

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