Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Press 1 To Be Totally Frustrated For A While

IVR is that technology that you encounter when you call customer service and a prerecorded voice provides instructions on how to proceed. You are told to enter a number for a particular service using the phone keypad or sometimes voice responses.

IVR stands for interactive voice response and, if done right, will improve customer service. To be honest, I have not encountered very many that have been done right. But I have run into many that were done badly.

Ideally, you select your function such as making an inquiry, a purchase, a payment, or requesting help. The system asks for certain information. You enter your account or phone number. Perhaps you have to enter a PIN to authenticate. You are presented with more choices and you merrily punch your way through the whole transaction. Sometimes you reach a dead end and, presto, a human appears on the phone. At this point the human has all the information needed and can satisfy your request or solve your problem. Right.

That is how it is supposed to go. I'm willing to bet, though, that has not been the majority of your experience and it certainly has not been mine.

The most common problem is the lack of integration. You dutifully punch in your 10 digit phone number and PIN or your 15 digit account number and move on to select the service needed. Press 1 for this and 2 for that and so on. What happens next is a person comes on the line and asks for your name. Then asks you to provide the very same information you punched in not one minute ago. Again you are asked to describe your issue. Invariably this results in a polite but unavoidable, "please hold on while I transfer you to the right department."

You enjoy someone else's favorite genre of music, punctuated by commercials suggesting you take advantage of additional services, upgrades or new products. With any luck, before the line goes dead, another person picks up. I say that because you will be transferred several times and invariably once or twice the call will simply drop. Then, like chutes and ladders, you slide back to the first interaction and start all over again.

The reason each person has to ask you to provide all the same information and validate your identity is due to a lack of connection among the systems used to provide customer service. As you are transferred around the organization from sales to customer service to billing and back to sales, the people at the other end of the phone line do not get the data collected by the person before them. So they have to ask again.

They also work from a script which leaves little room for independent or creative thinking. They have a series of questions to ask and depending on your answers they have an indicated next action. Since callers are unpredictable (and to be honest, unreliable) the conversation often goes off script. When this happens the default action is to hand it off to another person who might be the right one with the right script to bring the issue to closure. No one person has responsibility for your problem.

Finally, the metrics by which these people are judged usually involve the volume of calls they can handle and closure rates. Closure does not mean your problem is solved. It means they have done everything they can and you are no longer their issue. This motivates them to quickly dispatch every call. More calls means better performance and if I can shuffle you off to another person I get to close the call out and move on.

With poor systems design, lack of integration, tightly controlled customer interactions and the wrong performance metrics at play it is easy to see why these systems leave most people highly frustrated in the end.

Captain Joe

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