You most likely found this article after doing a Google search on “IVR Best Practices,” or something similar. A search such as that will return a lot of potential sources of information. Interactive Voice Response best practices can be a very subjective topic. Especially when considering the source. Customer service and call center consultants will offer up advice based on their consultative specialty. Voice automation and related SaaS (software as a service) providers will tweak their advice specific to their core product’s capabilities.
Our advice will be more agnostic and focus on the best customer service outcomes for your customers (or callers). Over the past 15+ years of designing self-service IVR (Interactive Voice Response applications), we have first-hand experience in what works best. This blog post is updated for 2023 and and originally followed our high-level strategy article on 8 Things You Can Do To Boost Your CX In 2020, with some real-world IVR self-service automation tactics.
The Unexpected Truth
One of the search returns mentioned above leads to an article from a SaaS provider. Their IVR best-practices piece begins by pointing out a common “balancing act” of weighing delighting customers versus reducing operational costs. This is a common mistake many companies make with their IVR design by emphasizing cost reduction as the impetus for voice automation. Doing so is a company-first approach to IVR development, and it’s tantamount to “worst-practices.”
Repeat after me, “Customer First.” Do it again, “Customer First!” The unexpected truth is that by embracing a customer-first-focus and giving your callers the best-in-class self-service automation experience, you will reduce your costs. Delighted customers are the easiest and most cost-efficient to handle. So get into the mind of your customers, understand their journey, and why they’re calling. Plan the path of no resistance (not least resistance) to make their journey short and productive. Eliminate confusion, deliver answers efficiently, and provide clear paths to humans if more assistance is needed.
So now that you’re thinking about your customers first, here are some tactics to deliver on a customer-first IVR system.
Know Your Caller
The most important aspect of a customer-first strategy is to make sure your IVR system is integrated with your CRM or other sources of customer information. You can’t be customer-first without a fast-path to knowing who is calling, and the details of their relationship with you.
Automated Speech Recognition or ASR
The majority of IVR systems out in the wild are still DTMF or touch-tone-based. Customers are becoming more and more accustomed to speaking to machines. If you haven’t already, select an IVR system that, at a minimum, offers directed-speech ASR for basic commands and input. Full natural language understanding would be ideal, but the fact is that most companies don’t need it; yet.
Ramp It Up With Conversational AI
I know what you’re thinking, “Here’s yet another blog author enamored with AI and tossing it around for Google search juice.” As I mentioned above, people are accustomed to speaking with intelligent machines. Emphasis on “Intelligent.” You’ll find plenty of chatbot vendors who promise to get your supposed conversational AI up and running with little more than a credit card number. But if it’s not connected to your data sources, you’ll end up frustrating your callers and customers with a pointless exchange. The goal is a conversational AI connected to your data and ready to solve problems and deliver instant answers through effective conversation design.
An increasingly effective way of knowing your caller is through voice biometrics. It uses a voiceprint of your caller and matches hundreds of unique characteristics with previous voiceprints on file. Using voice biometrics to authenticate callers can be up 80% faster than traditional methods.
Integrate With Your Contact Center Software
If you’re outsourcing your contact center, it’s in your best interest to control your own IVR automation platform. Our Managed CPaaS, the Compass Automation Platform is purpose-built to stand in front of one or more contact center vendors. Integrating your IVR system with your contact center solution has two advantages. First, you’re able to gather analytics across the entire customer journey, from the first IVR menu selection to resolution with a live agent. Second, the IVR can send screen pops to the agent with details about the customer’s interaction with the IVR.
Take the time to get feedback from your frontline agents and key customers regularly. Being customer-first means a commitment to understanding what is working and what is not. Short customer pulse surveys at the end of a call is a great customer-first strategy to stay on top of caller satisfaction and sentiment. Automated voice surveys yield a high response rate and real-time results to ensure you have the feedback when you need it.
Design For Success
As we mentioned above, get into the minds of your customers and map out their real-world journeys. Find the path of no resistance to conclude those journeys quickly. Then clearly define with success will look like, and put in place a plan to measure the results.
Focus On Efficiency
No one likes a long menu with various forms of condescending, “Make sure you listen to this entire message, as the menu options may have changed.” Long messages, complicated menus, and condescension are hallmarks of a company-first IVR design. Make sure your messages are concise and allow callers to interrupt the message with a menu selection or live agent request.
Be The Brand
An automated voice application, such as an IVR is an ideal opportunity to let your brand identity shine. Select a tone and style that reflects your brand values and leave an immediate, lasting impression.
Keep It Fresh
You update your social media every day, sometimes several times a day. Make sure your IVR system allows you to keep your messages fresh. Provide details about your latest offers, product updates, or even important alerts and notifications.
Keep It Safe
Finally, we all know that the security of personally identifiable information is top of mind with everyone. Don’t be in the news. Make sure you’re following industry standards with security protocols and controls, and conduct regular training with your agents to make sure they understand.
Customer Stories: Putting It All Together
It’s one thing to sit here and pontificate through our blog on all these tacts, it’s another to put it into action. Read about how we helped a financial services company deliver their “Gold Standard Customer Experiences” through their IVR and self-serve automation. Or, learn how we helped a major consumer credit card company solve long hold times in a difficult market.
We’re Here To Help
If you’re looking to upgrade your legacy contact center system with a cloud-based IVR platform, or are outsourcing your contact center and need to improve your IVR, we’re your IVR department. Contact us to learn more about how we’re become your partner, for your customers.