Customer service doesn't have to be complicated or annoying
In this recent video from Consumer Reports, the top three customer complaints relating to customer service are profiled:
- Waiting too long on hold
- Can't reach a human
- Navigating convoluted menus
Interestingly, most of these complaints are unique to IVRs. When describing human interactions at a brick and mortar store, for example, there may be complaints about wait times, but no one ever complains that he can't reach a human in a store or that the menus are too difficult to navigate. Humans are all around in real life--but can they solve your customer service problem?
The truth is that a well-designed IVR solution can actually address all three of these common customer service complaints and provide an extremely effective customer service experience. Let's address each issue individually:
Waiting too long on hold. Hold time is the bane of call centers and contact centers everywhere, and the balance of qualified staff to quantity of callers can be a difficult one to maintain. And yet, there are easy alternatives to forcing your callers to suffer through endless hold music.
- First, consider offering self-service options, either in the IVR or online. For any industry call center, there is a list of the most commonly asked agent questions along with a procedural list highlighting how to correct them. If the issue has a common, standard solution with a proven success rate, there is no need to make callers wait on hold. Offer them the chance to self-serve, either in the IVR or online. Like the self-serve checkout lane at the grocery store, sometimes it's just faster and less frustrating if the customer does it herself.
- Second, offer a callback. Within a well-designed IVR, when wait times pass a certain threshhold, the option to receive a callback is available. The process is simple: callers select the option for a callback and enter their phone number through DTMF or speech recognition while retaining their priority in the queue. The caller hangs up, goes about his life, and receives a call back from an agent when the queue clears.
- Third, offer chat support. Chat support offers the immediacy of phone interaction with a built-in lag time that allows agents to multitask. Currently, chat queues tend to be shorter than phone queues, and customers can get near-immediate answers. While some still may prefer the IVR channel, deflecting those comfortable with chat support to that channel will ease the burden on the call center queue and reduce hold times for everyone.
Can't reach a human. We've written about this issue before. The issue isn't that the caller can't reach a human; the issue is that the robots aren't well-designed. A well-designed IVR will quickly collect enough information to identify the caller and promptly route the caller to a human agent. What is frustrating for callers is an IVR designed by engineers rather than customer service experts; what is logical to a technician may not be a logical call flow to a real human caller. Tip: if you want to know where your IVR isn't working, ask your front line agents. They will tell you exactly where the IVR is failing callers.
Navigating convoluted menus. There is no excuse for this one; IVR menus should be simple, direct and reflect the most common customer needs. A few basic rules:
- No more than five choices. Humans can remember three or four choices easily, five with some difficulty. Giving more than that will frustrate callers.
- No more than two choices on a submenu. If your submenu has more than two choices, you need to redesign your IVR.
- More than one submenu. Having to navigate past even one submenu creates a barrier between the caller and the agent. Throwing two or three submenus in the call flow makes the experience more mazelike and less customer-friendly.
- Use speech recognition. Pushing 1, 2 or 3 is fine for simple tasks, but it makes for a much better and more personal caller experience when the caller can simply say "I need help with billing" or "I'm having a problem with my printer."
When designing a customer response system, designers should keep in mind the most basic of human needs: callers simply want to be understood, helped and sent on their way. In many cases, this can be achieved with well-designed automation. In fact, studies have shown that for many routine tasks, customers prefer self-service to engaging in small talk with a live agent. Activating an effective speech recognition solution, designing and IVR with intuitive menu choices and offering callers callback and chat options address these common customer service issues as well as the human needs behind them.