Fans of the movie series Shrek have seen how a mean and destructive ogre become warm and friendly, and a force for good, wrapped in an arch and sometimes pointed sense of humor.
Are we at last seeing a similar evolution with inbound and outbound IVR systems?
IVRs speech rec as well as DTMF have been and still are the ogres of customer service. Customers are tossed into and pummeled by these virtual creatures if they fail to fall into the elite 20 percent that produce 80 percent of profits--i.e. the infamous "Pareto Principle" --that makes them worthy enough to be given the attention of a live agent jammed inside a cube somewhere in the world. Customers flail against nightmarish menus, limited libraries and bad grammars while frantically and some cases fruitlessly trying to find agent opt-outs which may not exist.
Speech rec promises and has often made IVR customer-friendlier yet at considerable expense and lead time. Yet these applications are still far from perfect. And there is also a creepiness factor with speech systems like Amtrak's "Julie" that purport to promote a cuddly human relationship when you are really chatting to a programmed chip housed on a server in a climate controlled room somewhere in the universe.
(Hmmm...is Julie HAL's cyber love child from an illicit coupling with a Sperry Univac machine??)
And that's just on the inbound side. On the outbound route, well if you think agents spitting off scripts, driven by predictive dialers that drives their output like feeding amphetamines to hamsters in cages well it can be worse: it can be the machines that are robocalling you at dinner time.
There appears to be a rough correlation between the advent of IVR, and CRM systems that have ruthlessly applied the former, that match what appears to be increased customer dissatisfaction and annoyance with the firms they do business with. Is this just coincidence, is it the result of the downturn that makes individuals edgy or an increased impatience by the populace or is it the hard hand of logical consequences of corporate actions i.e. employing irritating IVR systems?
One of the shining silver linings from the economic slump is that it forced companies to quit taking customers for granted. For if these outfits tick buyers off they will go elsewhere, tell the world about it via the new social media sites, resulting in fewer others that will be suckered in to replace that lost business.
The smart companies are getting it: that the loss of revenue from turned off existing and potential customers exceeds the cost savings from overeager IVR deployments. They and their suppliers are turning their attention at last to their IVR systems by making them into constructive tools that can actually improve customer service and retention as well as lower expenses and boost productivity.
As revealed in recent TMCnet.com and Customer Interaction Solutions news and articles, IVR and speech suppliers such as Angel.com, Avaya, Convergys, CosmoCom, Nuance and Voxeo [to name a few] and/or their customers are designing better inbound applications including improved workflows, routing and grammars. They are employing analytics tools to understand where the sticking points are in automated interactions and finding solutions to them. Companies are also integrating IVRs with business systems that enable customer self-serve tasks such as order entry and delivery status, bill payment getting and changing customer information.
At the same time outbound IVR is rapidly becoming a customer friend rather than a foe by being repurposed by firms from thankfully-lawfully restricted marketing purposes to rapidly-becoming-invaluable alerting tools such as for credit card balance exceeds and potential fraud, flight delays and opt-in special offers. Outbound IVR when so employed is multi-win by delivering improved service while cutting costs through avoiding inbound calls.
There is also a growing understanding by suppliers and buyers alike what functions that each of these tools: DTMF and speech rec, automated voice, text and web, and live agents can do best at it and are deploying them accordingly. No one channel or solution fits all customer interactions.
Customers may not exactly be a fan of IVR systems but if they are programmed right, with their needs in mind, they can actually do some good by enabling them to get the services and items they need with minimal waits: and aggravation.