The Problem With IVR: A Call Center Case Study
Posted: 06/30/2009 12:00:00 AM EDT | 6
Editor's Note: This article was first run on Customer Management IQ on 4/1/2009.
Call center representatives are trained to respond to only certain call types.
But when voice recognition technology, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), is thrown into the call center mix, problems arise. Voice recognition technology causes issues for both the customer and the call center representative.
This shouldn't come as a big surprise, but customers hate voice recognition technology, no matter how well-designed it is. And because of that hate-hate relationship, they often try to outwit the voice recognition technology.
Strategic Choreography of an Inbound Call Center Call
When phoning the call center, your customer doesn't want to be instructed to push button one if the reason for the call is a billing problem, or to push button two if the reason for the call is a technical problem. He or she wants to push whatever button gets him or her the quickest to a call center representative. But that destroys the strategic choreography going on behind the scenes of the call center.
The customer calling about billing problems experiences a substantial wait time because the billing specialists are answering technical calls. And the customer calling about technical problems does not receive an accurate or consistent answer and has to call repeatedly to get an answer to a simple question.
Voice Recognition Technology and Real-Life Call Center Problems
I recently performed a reengineering project for a large call center that had a single number for dialing. The number led customers to the voice recognition technology. This voice recognition technology was designed to route the calls to specific sets of call center representatives within the call center.
I had a chance to speak with the trained call center representatives during the reengineering project. The call center management had grandiose ideas as to what the capabilities were of the call center representatives. Unfortunately for the call center representatives, this was not possible to implement.
It was not the call center representative’s fault but rather the customer relationship management system.
A Toxic Call Center Customer Relationship Management System
The customer relationship management system the call center used was designed to handle a single product set, not multiple suites of products. Therefore, the customer relationship management system made it very difficult, if not impossible, for call center representatives to answer billing questions having to do with things like prorating.
Call center representatives collectively stated that they couldn't handle all billing questions, and that call center representatives frequently gave different answers to the same question. The call center technology did not keep pace with the changing business requirements.
And not one call center representative received any training after the initial call center training.
By trying to handicap the call center representatives by skill sets, we have inadvertently handicapped the call center by engineering away the call center representative’s ability to be excellent.
First published on Customer Management IQ.
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Interactive Voice Response is a very useful tool, if the business process owners spend time and participate in its design. Unfortunately Interactive Voice Response systems have become a negative tool - meaning it is designed only with a view to reduce manned service and not with the sole purpose of facilitating/augmenting responsiveness!
Customers would always prefer a human being to serve them as they believe that the human being is responsive. If designed properly the IVRS can come closer to the average human responsiveness. The question is "are we willing to spend time and resource in making it happen?"
Interesting article to get conversation flowing.
Most established contact center business partners like Aspect provide Business Assessments to help a customer examine the very things this article talked to. This uncovers beneficial information for both the customer and the business partner. It helps openout the discussions surrounding new initiatives to encourage the proving process before releasing a new experience to the customer.
Having spent many years in project management I point back to the need to examine the full context of a business proposition that affects customer experience so as to model the entire experience in a way that meets the customer expectations - case in point, any new speech application scenario leveraging best practices should have included a usability testing stage wherein the customer experience would be analysed by a group who would be brutally honest with their feedback.
When companies introduce self-service they want to save money but this must be tempered by delivering an effective resolution to the customer issue. As far as Agent skills are concerned, if the application is well designed and effective it will actually be possible to manage the skill set of front line agents but of course someone needs to be available to handle escalations outside the skill set.For FCR this means having a solution that links into the Enterprise to find that skill - perhaps only as high as ateam lead, perhaps actually outside the contact center. Aspect working with Microsoft is one of the only companies actively involved in handling this kind of first call resolution scenario effectively.
Grab a chair, this will take a while.
I'm not sure what the proper etiquette is for replying to one’s own article, but as I told Blake, the ratings couldn’t be any lower had I written in crayon. In agreeing to write, I did so with the following in mind-- to have fun, and swap ideas with some of the leading subject matter experts. I like to write and to be challenged. I find most writing to be executed poorly and exceedingly boring, so you'll forgive me if I rant about grammar, add pictures, use story telling as a way to illustrate real life points, and add a touch of irreverence--sort of a acerbic imitation of Andy Rooney. Let's see if we can expand our ability to think.
I've been consulting in all things CRM/CEM since the first time I walked into a store with twenty cash registers and one cashier. I define CEM as Customer Equity Management. Most of the leading CRM vendors have been my personal clients, and I've represented their clients to the international community for about a base of 160,000,000 customers. So, I come to the table with a bit of expertise, and one confirmed bias. The bias? I do not believe that there is a single CRM application that will make firms excel at Customer Equity Management. I feel the same way about IVRs, ACDs and the rest of the alphabet of technology that allows firms to feel like they’re doing something positive with their customers. The only thing capable of making the firm succeed is the firm.
I've grown tired of a consultative train of thought suggesting that all the Mensa wannabees are thinking outside the box. If everyone claims to be out of the box, then by default, nothing's changed--the same talking heads are back in the box only having refocused their myopia.
The gist of my musings is to get a debate underway by learning to COLOR outside the lines.
Here's where I believe the customer relationship focus is today--firms believe the customer experience can be improved by deploying additional call center technology and applications. That's why I think most firms are either failing in dealing with their customer relationships or are grossly under-delivering. Why? Because by the time a call arrives at the call center, much more than half the time the call was placed because the customer firmly believes that something the company did was wrong, insufficient, half-baked, or poorly delivered. Does the company get it? No.
What evidence do we have to support that? Firms continue to throw money at call centers. To what end? To address the issues that arrive from the time the caller enters the queue until the wrap up occurs--get the caller through the care cycle as fast as possible, decrease handle time, decrease talk time, decrease wrap up time. The vast majority of call center technology, applications, and management focus on efficiency, not effectiveness. Even if the call center resolves the customer problem, it doesn't take away from the fact that there was a problem.
Here's where I believe the customer focus needs to be--up stream, before the customer ever picks up the phone to call. This isn't heresy, it's common sense. What if a firm could eliminate problems? Don't allow faulty processes to drive the need for a call center. Focus on process not speed. Be effective, not simply efficient. All of a sudden we are then dealing with increased retention, increased sales, increased referrals--increased customer equity.
Any manager can cut costs—few can increase revenues. Any call center can be managed to increase throughput. Very few have the skills to increase customer equity. That's the discussion I hope to have, and hopefully to have fun with it.
Let's talk. Invite the believers and the heretics.
So, back to the purpose of my reply. Let’s see if we can have a little fun with this. If not, stay away from bright shiny things and take your toys to some other sandbox.
We were talking about IVRs, right? Nobody not undergoing a twelve-step program has ever called a firm hoping to be instructed by a machine. A sure sign of pending doom is the sound of the pastoral recording stating that the call may be recorded for quality purposes. Ironic, isn’t it? The very fact that you are being informed by the IVR that at some point there may be a human to human, a mano a mano interaction, is their way of saying no such person exists.
The more nebbish may be content to wade through faulty tree and root algorithms. Not me. I start banging away at the zero, calling out ‘operator’, ‘agent’, anything that will enable me to pass through this dimension. The best a firm can hope for is that the IVR, or whatever other technology happens to be thrown into the mix, does no further harm. Customers aren’t calling to report how happy they are—sorry for ending with a preposition. The best a firm can hope to get for its technology, is that it does not further incite the angst.
Like many of you, I spend my time talking to CSRs and riding on service calls with techs. Don’t take my word for it, ask a CSR.
What if when you arrive at work tomorrow there’s an email which reads—sorry to digress for a moment, but I’m never sure of the correct wording; do emails read, state, say? Anyway, there’s an email. In twelve months, the number of CSRs will be cut by 50%, and the performance metrics will be doubled. If that’s the case, who among you runs out and buys more technology? If you answered, ‘not me’, move to the front of the class.
As a very frequent business traveler, I’m the frequent victim poorly designed IVR systems. I’m also in the call center business and amazed that very few companies appear to have implemented the IVR standards suggested by Get2Human (http://get2human.com). Voice recognition is an imperfect science and all IVR’s should also be able to accept DTMF input (airports are noisy and I don’t want to say my “pin” aloud anyway). I believe that using Get2Human standards will reduce the use of GetHuman’s (http://www.gethuman.com/) listing of ways around IVR’s thus protecting the savings that IVR’s promised us.
What I find most interesting is that most call center executives overlook the most important fact about call centers. What's that? It's the fact that most callers are calling because they have a problem. Hence, whatever the execs do to make the process more efficient, doesn't solve the caller's problem or make the caller happy. The best they can hope for with their technology is to not making the caller angrier.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, everything about call centers points to one thing: calls. While some might argue that this is mere semantics, I disagree. It's about people, not calls, and the sooner they shift their focus from the calls to the broken processes driving the people the better off they will be.