Forget optimization and fine-tuning: many organizations today are failing on very baseline issues of design fundamentals.
Despite the importance of the IVR to a company’s overall customer support strategy – a Purdue University study conducted several years back found that 63 percent of customers stop interacting with a company after a bad IVR experience – many companies are still making egregious mistakes in their IVR design.
Nor are bad IVRs confined to the realm of small companies with few IT resources. Even Fortune 500 companies can fall victim to basic IVR design errors, according to a study performed by VoIP and telecom review firm Software Advice.
To gather data, a researcher at Software Advice called the customer service numbers of 50 Fortune 500 companies in customer service-oriented industries such as airlines, cable television and Internet, financial services and insurance companies. The researcher then navigated menus by pressing zero (for systems with dial pad input) or voicing a request for an agent (for systems with speech recognition) to determine how quickly he could reach an actual human agent. He recorded all reactions with IVR systems to ensure precise measurements of average menu option length and other important metrics.
A Failure to Master Even the Basics
Ultimately, researchers discovered that many Fortune 500 companies fail to observe even the most conventional wisdom in IVR design with regards to critical elements such as introduction length, limiting commercialization and the number of menu options customers must navigate through to reach an agent. The company matched its results to best practices it rounded up by speaking with industry experts.
“Whereas the researchers and developers with whom we spoke recommended keeping introductions short and free of branding statements, 10 percent of the Fortune 500 IVRs that I called featured introductions longer than 20 seconds,” said Daniel Harris, VoIP and telecom researcher at Software Advice. “Moreover, eight percent featured branding statements. These percentages suggest that many companies still need to take additional steps to make sure that their IVRs are designed around the tasks they want users to complete rather than corporate branding initiatives.”
Of the companies examined, not even one quarter provided callers with the option to speak with an agent in the first menu, which is considered to be a best practice. The remainder of companies forced callers to wait until at least the third menu (the average was 2.94 menus) before the option to speak with a live agent was presented.
Design from the Customer's Perspective
It seems clear that too many companies today – even those we consider wildly successful in their chosen industries – are still designing IVR solutions from the company’s perspective rather than the customer’s. Not only are these organizations aggravating customers and hurting customer relationships, they’re also wasting money: each of these large enterprises that are failing basic IVR design principles can easily be foregoing savings of $2 million a year or more due to poor IVR designs alone.
Changing the IVR conversation is particularly critical today, as customers are changing how they use IVR systems. Bruce Belfiore, CEO of call center benchmarking and certification firm BenchmarkPortal, told Software Advice that younger callers actually want the ability to complete tasks such as booking a flight or changing an address for a service without the assistance of a human agent.
You’d never know it, however, from the current IVR design of many Fortune 500 companies. Software Advice’s experiment determined that 46 percent of these organizations’ IVR systems failed to include self-service options in the top menu. It seems clear that companies determined to offer a better experience to their customers (in reality and not just in lip-service) have some work to do when it comes to implementing what customers are looking for when they’re looking for it.
The Fatal Flaw… and How to Fix It
A common flaw that can be fatal to IVR performance is (drumroll please…) failing to properly monitor and benchmark IVR performance. This may seem like a basic tenet of systems management, but it’s surprising how often IVR performance slips through the cracks. In systems that support millions of calls per year, even a fraction of a percentage improvement in automation rate can save six figures a year. Yet, few operations managers monitor automation rate closely, and fewer still have a clear understanding of their system’s performance potential if it should become fully optimized.
- Do you know your IVR automation rate to the second decimal point?
- How much does it vary from day to day?
- How much has it improved over the last two years?
- How much would your organization save for every 0.5% improvement in automation rate?
Closely monitoring IVR performance would quickly expose design flaws such as those identified in the Software Advice study cited above. This is the first step to achieving better performance that will result in significant cost savings for your enterprise and a better experience for your customers.
The second step is the tougher one. Once you have a good understanding of your IVR’s performance level, you need to know how to improve it. That’s going to take a proper continuous improvement program, which includes:
- Sufficient staff to stay focused on continuous improvement for the IVR
- An ability to collect massive amounts of IVR interaction data
- Tools and expertise to analyze all that data to identify improvement opportunities
- A process and feedback loop to incorporate and verify performance improvements in the IVR
The secret is this works remarkably well. Contact Solutions does this for all of our hosted IVR customers, and it’s not unusual for us to improve performance by 40%-50% or more during the first few years of deployment. In other words, you really don’t want to accept a nice performance improvement (let’s say it’s a 20% boost) when you deploy a new IVR and call it a day. If you don’t have a continuous improvement program in place, you could be leaving half of your potential savings on the table.