In the first of a new series of blog posts exploring the nine core principles of a great IVR, we look at why the customer’s preferences, demands and experiences need to be your top priority at every stage of the IVR design process.

It’s not much of a secret that IVR is one of the worst channels for customer engagement. A 2012 survey by the Discovery Channel even found it to be “the most annoying invention of all time”.

There are lots of reasons why (most) IVR sucks, but a fundamental one is that it’s usually designed by business analysts to meet goals that are important to the business.

Those goals might be things like “reduce calls to agents by 50%” or “deflect 40% of calls to the website”. These ambitions are then translated into mechanical IVR call-flows designed to make them happen. The actual customer experience is an afterthought, if it’s even considered at all.

Needless to say, customers calling the IVR immediately get the (correct) impression that it’s designed to benefit the company, not them – and their satisfaction rates are all downhill from there.

Listen to customers. Learn what they want.

If you want to deliver a great customer experience in the IVR channel, you need to design it from the start with the customer in mind. That means using a skilled Voice User Interface (VUI) designer and researcher – as opposed to a business analyst – to document both the customer’s needs and the needs of the business, and design an experience that aligns the two.

“If you want to deliver a great customer experience in the IVR channel, you need to design it from the start with the customer in mind”

In practice, this means spending time sitting with contact centre agents and listening to calls to understand what people are calling about and why they’ve called in the first place (e.g. did they try to do something on the website and then call when it didn’t work?). We listen for the language they use and the way they think about a task and create a model of their desires, their expectations, their preconceptions and their goals.

An immediate improvement at Shop Direct Group

When we worked with Shop Direct Group, for example, we conducted a call analysis exercise, which revealed that 50% of callers were calling with the aim of buying something. So as part of a new customer-centric IVR design, we incorporated a simple question at the start of the IVR flow to create a faster and easier experience for would-be shoppers.

The new design had an immediate effect on customer satisfaction. In a survey of 1,000 callers, 88% said they preferred the new automation, with 50% giving the new IVR a 10/10 rating.

A Voice UX designer can also learn a lot about the current IVR by looking at reports from the system (if they exist, that is) and talking to agents. A caller will sometimes tell an agent if they found the IVR frustrating, and these complaints can be a rich source of design ‘inspiration’!

The VUI designer can then combine the information from calls, the contact centre ,data reports, marketing/brand research, and IT release plans to report a high-level context to design including:

Brand information: What are the company’s objectives for things like tone of voice and look and feel?

Competitor analysis: What’s the call experience like with other companies?

Usage on other channels: What’s it like for customers to do the tasks on the website or smartphone?

Technical feasibility: What are the options currently available for things like data access, storing and sharing?

Calls to action: why is the customer making the call? Has a bill just arrived, have they seen an advert, or did they fail to get an answer through a different channel?

Putting the findings into action

The findings from these context-gathering exercises will then inform a customer-centric design that should be tested with customers at every iteration, rather than being delivered as a finished app at the end of a waterfall-style development process.

Continuous testing is the new quality assurance paradigm – but it doesn’t have to be expensive and time consuming.

In a recent report, Forrester describes continuous testing as “the new quality assurance paradigm” – but this doesn’t have to be expensive and time-consuming. Testing can be done quickly and effectively using a prototype app and a small but representative group of users; five or six are usually enough to surface the majority of issues. Feedback should be incorporated back into the next iteration.

Testing and iteration shouldn’t stop when the final app is delivered – one hallmark of a great IVR is that the team continue to review its use and make incremental changes in line with customer needs, so the dreaded ‘IVR rot’ (you can read more about it in our blog post on principle number six: [insert link]) doesn’t set in.

New IVR experiences are a hit with customers at LIME

At LIME, the Caribbean’s biggest telecoms provider, iterative testing and implementation helped us align not one but three new IVR personas (the automated people you hear when you call an IVR) to the specific needs of the Caribbean’s distinct and diverse regional populations.

The response was immediate. Praise for the new personas and IVR system started pouring in through social media, safeguarding and building the equity of LIME’s rich, unique brand – and delivering cost-based payback in just two years.

The bottom line

When planning, devising, designing and implementing a new IVR it’s essential that you understand what customers are calling about, the language they use and how they use the current system. That’s your starting point. With that in mind, you can begin crafting a new system that customers are delighted with – as long as you have the right help.

Find out more in our eBook

Keeping your IVR updated is just one of nine design and deployment principles we use for delivering great IVR experiences. To read about all nine, fill out the form below to download our eBook: Press 1 To Be Delighted: How to Design, Develop and Deploy a Truly Customer-Centric IVR.

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Topics: IVR Design