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Grow Your Business Technology

5 Ways Your Interactive Voice Response Can Fail

5 Ways Your Interactive Voice Response Can Fail
Businesses need to make sure their interactive voice response system isn't failing them. / Credit: SInteractive Voice Response image via Shutterstock

While automated phone systems can improve a business's productivity, if they aren't used correctly they can really tarnish an image.

In order to get the most out of their interactive voice response (IVR) systems, businesses need to walk a fine line between taking care of their own needs, versus those of their customers. If they do it wrong, they risk frustrating their customer base to a point of no repair.

The key to a successful IVR is making the system easy for the consumer to use, while also complex enough to handle tasks that would otherwise need to be addressed by employees.

However, since every business has different needs, there is not a one-size-fits-all way to set up an IVR system, according to Donny Jackson, senior vice president of software development for IVR provider USAN.

"What's good for one is not good for everyone," Jackson told Business News Daily.

While their tasks might all be different, the main goal of an IVR system is the same for everyone: to get each caller's questions and needs handled within the system and without the call having to be transferred to an employee.

To help businesses, Jackson outlines five ways an IVR system can fail and how to prevent each from happening.

Identification and authentication

Unless the IVR is simply directing callers to specific departments or employees, then the first step of the system is to verify the caller is who he says he is. This needs to be done when a customer wants to pay a bill, check an order or shipping status and obtain personal records.

If the system can't quickly and accurately authenticate the customer, the call will be transferred to an employee, which costs businesses both time and money.

Jackson said that to make this step as painless as possible, the IVR needs to request personal information the caller readily knows.

"You don't want to ask for information they might not have handy," Jackson said. "Make that process as easy as you can, because you don't want to lose that caller."

USAN advises for less sensitive information, such as obtaining an account balance or order status, businesses would be best served to implement a partial identification system that the caller is likely to know, such as the last four digits of the caller's Social Security number.

"For those tasks deemed highly secure or covered by compliance mandates, you fully authenticate the caller," USAN wrote in a recent report on IVR systems. "For less sensitive tasks, your [IVR system] can partially authenticate, creating an easy to use and less error-prone application for the majority of callers."

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Confusing menus

Callers get easily frustrated with an IVR system that offers menu options that are hard to understand or not what they need. Offering too many options, presenting rarely chosen menu items before the most popular ones, and sending callers to wrong options are all signs an IVR system is poorly designed.

USAN encourages businesses to use no more than five menu options and put the high volume choices first, so callers aren't forced to listen through the entire menu to get what they want.

Jackson said the key to creating an effective menu is making sure callers are aware that you have what they want.

"The goal is to identify the tasks people are looking for and present them in a way that isn't confusing," Jackson said. "Craft the menu system to be clear and concise and make the caller feel like it has the information they need."

Callers not clear what's available

An IVR system will fail if callers don't recognize that their task can be performed without needing to speak to an employee. If they think their needs can't be handled by the IVR, they are quickly going to opt out of the system so they can speak with a calling agent.

"You have to make sure customers know what tasks are available," Jackson said.

One way to do so is by making sure that when a caller is transferred to an employee to handle a task that could have been completed by the IVR system, that the employee  informs the caller that they can save time by using the automated system next time.

Another option is to play a recording within the system that says, for example, "Did you know you can access shipping notifications by pressing three?"

"We are trying to tell them you can do it easier in automation," Jackson said.

Callers don't trust the IVR

Often callers will know the information they need is available within the IVR system, but they don't trust what they hear and would rather have it confirmed by an actual employee. While the caller might be happy with the service received when talking to the employee, it is costing the business money by not keeping the caller within the IVR system.

Jackson said getting callers to fully trust the IVR and the information it provides is all about educating customers.

"We have to tell [the caller] our automated system has the most up-to-date information," Jackson said. "You have to make them know there is nothing more an agent is going to tell them than the automated system."

Educating the customer can also be done through prerecorded messages within the system. If the caller is trying to access an operator, the business can play a message that says, "Did you know our automated service has the most current and updated information?" "To get your account information, press one"; or "To continue to hold for the next available representative, please stay on the line."

Not fully utilizing the IVR

A key mistake many businesses make is not taking full advantage of their IVR systems' capabilities. Jackson said one area where businesses could be doing more is by using the system to cross-sell and upsell callers on new products and services. He said when in the IVR, businesses have a captive audience so they need to make the most of it.

The key to properly upselling and cross-selling callers is making sure they are being targeted with offers that are specific to them. He said IVR systems today are so sophisticated that once a caller has been identified and authenticated, it can look up information on past purchases or needs.

Jackson said that information should be tapped into to find offers that the caller may be interested.

"They appreciate it because it is relevant to them," Jackson said of the cross-selling.

Businesses should also be using their outbound IVR capabilities as much as possible. Jackson said a new way some businesses are using outbound IVRs is by recognizing what customers would be calling about and calling them automatically before they ever pick up the phone.

For example, Jackson said if a bank customer calls on the 15th of every month to check his account balance, the IVR system could be used to call him first thing that morning with that information.

"Having a system that gives them what they want just in time; that's kind of a game changer," he said.

In the end, Jackson said IVRs are best used when they can handle all of the caller's needs quickly and easily.

"An IVR is an important channel," Jackson said. "It is crazy to not give them a great experience."

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.