Automatic Shouldn’t Be Robotic

Jun 16, 2010

We’ve all experienced them. And, done well, I happen to be a big fan. And yes, we at C3i Solutions leverage them on behalf of our clients. They are the automated inbound/outbound IVR. You know. The machine voice that interacts with you on the customer service line in lieu of a live agent.

Inbound IVR started out as the “Press 1 for Sales; 2 for service” application. And many still survive in this format. Then, they evolved to “Press or Say 1…” And, when these were the only alternatives, I wasn’t such a fan. Not because of the technology per se, but because of how it was abused. Or more to the point, how I was abused while interacting with it. Hence the expression “IVR Jail”. I could get in. But, there’s no way Dr. Evil IVR programmer was letting me out. If they could keep me in the IVR until I disconnected in frustration, the company just saved about $20 in agent call handling costs. And in general, that was the ultimate motivation; to save the company money through call deflection.

But today, these technologies include speech recognition and sophisticated voice activated response that can create a real win-win; a positive experience for those preferring self service, like me. And a cost reduction for the company. How about that!

So, when I received an appointment reminder from my son’s doctor recently via an outbound IVR, I couldn’t understand how Robot from Lost In Space got my number and for what reason was he calling.

One thing I did know for sure was that my local hospital (area code 484) outsourced this to some third party IVR or contact center (the call came from area code 303).

So, I wonder. Who made the decision to automate this customer touch point? What were the decision criteria to outsource it? Was it a pure financial decision? Did anyone consider the impact on the customer experience?

My friend Chris Reaburn blogged recently about the customer invoice as a touch point by which there is opportunity to enhance the customer experience. Chris has some great ideas. What organizations need to do first, however, is do the basics right.

With outstanding examples of elegantly crafted voice response systems like Julie from Amtrak and Bank of America’s smooth talking IVR gent, there are plenty of examples by which to model this channel.

Make a few calls and listen, Doc.