Hanging on the IVR: From Call Centre to Stall Centre

When Bell Labs created the blueprint for an Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) system in 1962, little did they know that this invention would go on to cause such misery for millions of people.

Despite being around for over fifty years, telephone systems are still a major source of frustration for many customers around the world every day.

Overly complex telephone menus and automated telephone systems are turning call centres into “stall-centres” for many people, frustrated by constantly being put on hold and feeling bewildered by an endless array of options.

Research shows that the average customer trying to contact a utilities or service provider will have to work their way through four layers of menu options before being able to speak to a telephone operator. In the most extreme case, customers calling one retailer’s technical support line were forced to potentially navigate one hundred and seven menu options before getting through to a human being. The average consumer spent 17 minutes navigating the menu and queuing for help in their most recent call.

It’s therefore unsurprising to find that customers have had enough of sitting through endless menu options to be able to speak to an agent. Companies have to realise that they can’t continue to waste their customers’ time any more. For too long, businesses have been interested in improving efficiency for themselves, without considering how efficient things are for their customers. They need to realise that investing in IVR technology that puts the customer first, is essential for a business to succeed today.

Gone are the days when painful IVR menus were the standard. Technology has advanced considerably and there are excellent speech recognition options available now. So it’s perfectly feasible to remove all menu options in favour of a speech recognition, saving customers huge amounts of time in a queue and saving companies a considerable amount of money at the same time. One of our clients saved half a million pounds a year doing just this. A good IVR also frees up agents to solve callers’ more complex problems.

Visits to a random sample of the websites of 50 customer-facing brands found that fewer than half have contact numbers displayed on their ‘contact us’ page. And of the five telecoms companies visited, none offered a contact number on the page.

That that such a high percentage of brands visited in our mystery shopping exercise didn’t have a number on display is extraordinary. It’s almost as if they have decided that the phone no longer exists as a form of communication.

But the telephone is still statistically the most used customer channel. It’s the go-to channel when others can’t provide a complex answer – so why on earth would you take it away?

It suggests that their contact centre processes are not properly configured for the needs of 21stcentury consumers. Consumers who want choice and relevant channels to communicate, not ones that they expect to be there and aren’t, or take 20 minutes to navigate through.

By: Tony Porter
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Posted by eckoh at 4:54 PM on Sep 27, 2016


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