Intelligent or Interactive Voice Response systems are often criticized. Just a few days ago, Shaun Smith, a respected Customer Experience Consultant and blogger on Customer Think, argued that IVR’s almost never build empathy and therefore do not contribute to a positive Customer Service Experience. You can read the post here.
Smith makes some very valid points with regard to the Customer Experience and the need to treat the Contact Center as being an integrated part it. I could not agree more.
When discussing the role of the IVR in the entire Customer Experience I believe it is important to understand the entire Customer Service Experience and not just focus on one touch point. Also it is important to understand the Customer’s desired outcome when seeking Customer Services.
I think it’s safe to say Customers desire a solution to their problems or answers to their questions. More precisely I believe the Customer desires a correct answer/solution within a reasonably (short) time-frame and with minimal effort invested to get it. I agree that the Customer, when in direct contact with an employee, desires the employee to be empathic to his situation. Also the Customer requires the employee to have all relevant information for his specific case available and not having to provide the details of his case or question over and over again.
When designing the Customer Service Experience companies need to carefully weigh meeting the need for speed, effectiveness, low Customer effort and personalized empathic resolution.
An IVR can play an important role in meeting Customer’s desired outcomes of the Customer Service Experience. For one it can provide compelling and easy to use self-service experiences (minimal Customer effort and speed). Secondly, when IVR’s are connected to company’s CRM-systems they can provide the Customer Service Rep with all available Customer information, even before the Rep answers the phone (minimal Customer effort and speed). Thirdly IVR’s have the ability to route Customers to the Rep with the knowledge and systems needed to answer the Customer’s question or resolve his problem (correct answer, minimal Customer effort and speed).
All of the above functionalities of the IVR can contribute to meeting Customer’s desired outcomes and therefore to a compelling and good Customer Service Experience. This experience will become great when talking to an empathic Customer Service Rep that is empowered to a level that he or she can take ownership of the Customer’s question, request or complaint and solve it in one call.
I therefore believe that the IVR is a necessary tool in the design of a Customer Service Experience. One does need to be careful with having too many options and too many layers in it as a consequence of the minimal Customer Effort principle. Also Contact Center forecasting and planning capabilities need to be on a high level to ensure minimal risk at long waiting queues (although Customer’s do weigh a first time right answer higher than short waiting times).
Last, but certainly not least, one needs to provide a compelling and great online customer self-service experience first. More and more (by now a vast majority I believe) Customers are searching your website or service communities before dialing into the Contact Center. If they do not find it there, you’re already 0 – 1 behind (customer effort increases, speed of resolution decreases). Making that up with an IVR and an empathic Customer service Rep will make the Customer Service Experience a zero-sum-game to the max.