Omni-Channel Customer Engagement Article

Adaptive IVR Erases the Customer Dread of 'Pressing One'

September 19, 2016

There’s a lot of conflicting anecdotal information about customer self-service. On one hand, many studies indicate that customers prefer to find answers for themselves when they have a question or an issue in order to avoid seeking live help. On the other hand, it’s practically a staple of movie comedies or stand-up acts: customers trapped in IVR hell, pushing buttons and speaking loudly only to hear, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that” over and over again. So which is it? Do customers want self-service or are they frustrated with it?

The answer is that customers are frustrated with poor, ineffective customer support. One of the hallmarks of bad self-service is last generation’s IVR, which came complete with too many menu choices, overly rudimentary speech recognition that didn’t work most of the time, and the need to wait through long menus without jumping ahead or reaching a live agent. If you’re still subjecting customers to the same IVR you used five years ago, it’s time to stop.

A good IVR should mimic how humans speak and respond to one another, according to a recent blog post by Aspect’s (News - Alert) Tobias Goebel.

“Since we use language every hour of every day, it is part of our identities, our culture, ourselves,” he wrote. “When we hear something that doesn’t conform to what we expect language to sound, it immediately catches our attention, distracts us, slows down the conversation.”

When humans speak to one another, they adapt to each other’s responses. When the two humans know each other, they already have rudimentary information, which means it’s not necessary to ask for repetition. So why can’t IVR technology adapt to each customer and operate a little differently depending on whom it’s interacting with? Increasingly, it can. It can adapt to preferences (because it knows which menu choices the customer usually makes), adapt to style (go faster or slower, depending on customers’ previous interactions) and adapt to experience (changing the interaction based on how savvy the customer is with using the IVR).

“Using layers, the same application logic can be presented in different ways according to runtime decisions or customer preferences such as language, input mode, the “persona” the caller prefers (e.g. male vs. female voice), and more,” wrote Goebel.

A good solution can actually change its style to better “mimic” the way the customer speaks numbers, or use the words/synonyms the customer uses instead of the company’s techno-speak (“Internet” versus “broadband,” for example).

“There is something unique in how we memorize numbers, like our own telephone number,” Goebel observed. “Some remember them digit by digit, some use a combination of digits for some parts, and number blocks for others, some use number blocks throughout. E.g. saying ‘four-oh-seven-five-six-seven, double-oh, thirty-seven’ vs. ‘four-oh-seven, five-six-seven, zero-zero-three-seven.’”

IVR technology that is “smart” or “adaptive” can anticipate customer needs and wants, and slow down or speed up to  meet that customers’ speech style, understanding and preferences. It’s a great way to take a lot of the traditional pain out of customer IVR interactions, help the process feel less robotic and save the customer time and frustration. It can also (importantly) change customers who were previously unwilling to use IVR into willing self-service users. Self-service, after all, should be a useful tool for the customer and the company…not a barrier to keep customers away. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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