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#IVRFAIL: What Does Social Media Say?

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We go online to find out what’s annoying customers about the IVRs they encounter – and look at how to fix those #IVRFAILs.

Airbnb and Uber may have ushered in a customer service revolution, but not everyone is on board. Plenty of organizations still behave appallingly towards their customers, especially when it comes to their interactive voice response (IVR) systems.

We know people hate automated phone systems – 43% of respondents to a 2014 Which? survey said it was their biggest customer service irritation. But what is it they actually object to? We took to Twitter to take a snapshot of IVR-related things people complain about on social media.

Three types of #IVRFAIL

As you might expect, there’s no shortage of people venting their frustration. Using just two search terms we thought might be fruitful (“IVR” and “speak to a person”), we quickly gathered a hefty array of complaints. If there was a hashtag to unite them, it would have to be #IVRFAIL.

But not all #IVRFAILS are the same. We noticed three main types:

  1. No option to talk to a human being for a complex enquiry
  2. Having to wait for an agent with an enquiry that could be resolved in self-service
  3. Poor (or no) connections with other channels

#IVRFAIL 1: No option to talk to a human being for a complex enquiry

Not being able to talk to an agent is the no. 1 source of customer annoyance with phone-based service, according to a 2015 survey of 1,016 U.S. consumers by Consumer Reports.


Many IVRs lead callers through a labyrinth of options before allowing them to talk to an agent, ratcheting up the frustration. Some don’t offer the option at all, in an attempt to contain all calls within the IVR. Others try to deflect callers to another low-cost channel (e.g. the web) if their query can’t be resolved in the IVR itself.

The obvious aim here is to make call handling costs as low as possible. But if the IVR doesn’t provide a helpful service, any cost savings are completely counterproductive. In 2015, customer experience solutions company SDL found that, of customers who had a bad service experience, 64% stop recommending the brand, 30% go to a competitor and 12% complain about it online.

And that’s not counting the people who will just keep on calling every number until they get through to someone, sending your call volumes through the roof.


No organization in its right mind wants this kind of thing to happen. So what can you do to fix it?

How to fix it: IVR containment only benefits your business if callers can genuinely get their inquiry resolved in the IVR – quickly and efficiently.

Understanding why people call, and re-designing the IVR to meet those needs quickly and effectively, is the first step towards genuinely helpful self-service.

In most organizations, the vast majority of callers only want to complete a basic task, like finding opening times, paying a bill, or checking their order status. If you can help them fulfil these tasks quickly in the IVR, using a natural, conversational style that talks to callers using words and phrases they expect, you’re well on your way to increasing containment rates without irritating your callers.

Better still, if you use basic data to understand why a caller might be calling, and automatically tailor the IVR to their context, you can lower call resolution times, and increase containment rates and customer satisfaction still further.

For example, if the number they’re calling from maps to a customer account, and there has been a recent order on that account, it can be immensely helpful to play a tailored message like “I see you’ve recently placed an order with us, is that what you’re calling about?”

And if they do need to speak to an agent, knowing their circumstances means you can get them to the right one faster.

In our experience, having a CX specialist spend a day or two understanding why callers call, and what kind of self-service would be helpful to them, can pay huge dividends down the line in terms of IVR containment and customer satisfaction. Among our own customers, we’ve seen this kind of approach increase customer engagement with the IVR by a factor of three.

#IVRFAIL 2: Having to wait for an agent with an enquiry that could be resolved in self-service

This is the converse #IVRFAIL to the one above. While many callers want to speak to an agent because they have a complex enquiry, others have no interest in speaking to a human being, and just want to complete a simple task – or get some basic information – as quickly as possible.

So making them wait in a long queue to talk to an agent, when their enquiry could easily be dealt with in self-service, just leads to frustration, anger and exasperated tweeting.


How to fix it: As we saw above, conducting an exercise to understand the reasons people call, and devising smart, self-service options to deal with them, can transform the volume of inquiries resolved in self-service, and significantly increase customer satisfaction. Especially if you can use data to customize IVR prompts to the caller’s current context.

This is also an area where connecting the IVR with other channels can deliver great results. If a customer is calling about an ongoing situation – say a network outage – they don’t want to be calling back every half hour for an update, and having to wait for an agent every time.

A simple option to receive SMS updates not only reduces pressure on the contact center, but also frees up customers’ time and keeps them much happier.

At the telco operator LIME, for example, this approach led to nearly 40% of callers opting to receive SMS updates, significantly reducing inbound call volumes.

IVRFAIL 3: Poor – or no – connections with other channels

Most organizations today recognize that customers live in an omni-channel world, and that there’s no such thing as a “web customer” or a “mobile customer”.

So a lot of budget and effort are being spent on devising strategies that tie channels together to create a seamless customer experience.

But very often, the IVR gets left out of those strategies. It’s almost the channel that CX forgot.

The reasons for this vary. Sometimes it’s because the CX team have come from a digital or retail background, and so their focus is mainly on the web, mobile and in-store experience. Other times, organizations simply aren’t aware of how popular a channel the IVR is, believing that most people these days want to access customer service online.

(They don’t. In 2015, Forrester found that 73% of US adults still pick up the phone for customer service.)

And most IVR applications don’t lend themselves easily to a CX makeover, or to integration with other channels. They’re often 15-20 years old, written in obscure code, come with only rudimentary management tools, and contain no analytics or reporting to suggest how people use them and what that experience is like. It’s hard to get under the hood of these “black boxes”, and if the one person who knew how to do that has left, the IVR is often simply left to rot.

The net result for callers is that the IVR has no way of connecting them with other useful channels. It’s unaware of what they just did on the web, it can’t offer to send them an SMS confirmation or personalized URL (leading to a specific, useful page on the website), and often can’t even let an agent know what the caller just did in the IVR.


How to fix it: Sometimes, these “black box” IVRs are salvageable, if the CX team works with someone with the right programming skills to re-configure the IVR to meet modern customer needs.

But mostly, the kindest thing to do to a rotting 90s-era IVR is to retire it, and replace it with a modern application based on web technologies and open standards that can be easily modified and updated, and easily integrated with other channels and applications.

(A further advantage with an IVR of that type is that it’s generally portable between cloud and on-premise infrastructure, giving flexible deployment options that could increase reliability and save on hardware and maintenance costs.)

Time to address #IVRFAIL

Our non-scientific trawl of Twitter shows that plenty of people are angry about the IVRs they come across. (If you haven’t already, you may like to investigate what they’re saying about yours.)

In what Forrester calls The Age of the Customer, no organization wants to see its customers tweeting angrily about their customer service experience.

Fixing basic issues in the IVR is a good (and often extremely cost-effective) way of stemming the tide of furious tweets – but, more importantly, also delivering great service that customers appreciate.