IVR – We Are Experiencing Large Call Volumes at this Time

Why do government departments and large corporations have such painful IVR systems? It isn’t a new situation, but it has become topical again.

IVR: Is it because they don’t care, don’t try, or don’t want to help you?

There are reasons why IVR hell still exists, and not one of them is technical. In fact, most are profoundly human.

This blog looks how large volumes of calls can send call centers into disarray.

“We are currently experiencing a large volume of calls”

One of the essential skills for running an efficient call center is the ability to predict demand and to provide resources accordingly. If a business or organization is unable to do this, they will have either under-used agents or over-long queues. Both of these are bad for the organization, but only the latter is apparent to the callers. That’s why announcements such as “We are currently experiencing a large volume of calls” are a good indication of a call center in trouble.

Everyone makes mistakes – to err is human – but to err persistently is both stupid and inefficient. Surely a call center should welcome “a large volume of calls” – after all, that’s what it’s there for. Either those calls represent an opportunity to make money, or they reveal a problem which needs to be dealt with.

Large call volumes are the perfect opportunity to use IVR well, to satisfy callers without forcing them to wait for an agent. There are cases of exactly this successful use, for example the IVR systems deployed by companies like DHL and CityLink to answer queries about parcel deliveries in the bad weather around Christmas. It makes no business sense to staff call centers for the worst possible delays in the worst possible weather at the busiest time of the parcel year. It makes perfect sense to automate.

The problems occur when you automate badly. We’re all human, but some of us are more human than others, and the area of government IT projects seems to attract extremely human people, if erring is anything to go by. I rang the tax office today, and I don’t think they made a worse job of their IVR design than many other organizations. The difference is, most organizations try to put a lot less in the IVR.

A tax office is in the worst of all possible worlds when it comes to designing an IVR. They are subject to stringent legal and security requirements, which makes the IVR experience lengthy and frustrating. They are obliged to save taxpayers’ money by minimizing cost, which means callers are encouraged to stay in the IVR and use self-service as much as possible, and agents are in short supply because agent time is expensive. Finally, they are burdened with the curse of government IT projects, which inevitably seem to be designed without much regard for the need they are supposed to address. It should not be surprising, therefore, that a tax office IVR takes the prize for worst user experience.

At some point, maybe somebody at the tax office said “We can’t have this options, and this many menus. It just won’t work. Callers will get confused and angry.” Then maybe somebody else said “We could use speech recognition, callers could tell us what they want up front and then we’d know how to serve them effectively.” And I’m absolutely sure someone said “We don’t have the budget for that.”

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Posted by eckoh at 2:48 PM on Sep 18, 2014


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