What’s an Automated IVR?
In a large anonymous office building, a motley crew of foreign graduate students, local college kids on summer vacation and cash-strapped tourists are gathered for their daily team meeting. Some lounge in red pleather couches, while others toss a ball back and forth. Others head for their morning injection of caffeine – only for these workers, it’s now 4pm, and this shift will go well into the night. Before beginning their work, they are handed a sheaf of white papers and a telephone receiver, which they clean with anti-bacterial wipes. That’s right: This mishmash of worker bees are call center operators, spending their evenings attempting to peddle their wares to the unsuspecting residents of middle America. It is 2001.
When this snapshot took place, it was a common temporary cash-earning plan to take some time to operate phones, at a local call center. Before computerized call systems were mainstream, representatives would do everything themselves, from dialing the numbers to crossing each prospect off of a printout or filing a customer complaint form into a physical managerial inbox.
Over the last decade, much has changed: Customers are now likelier to hear computer-generated voices issuing from their caller-ID-screened phones than an accented college dropout. Entire customer service teams have been eliminated due to the reliance on interactive voice recordings to fulfill customer needs and even sell them on further products and services.
In the America of 2012, it’s not uncommon for thousands of households to receive phone calls every night, all of which are made with IVR technology. Millions of customers make calls to customer service hotlines only to be greeted with automatic voice technology that enables them to connect to the department they require, all without speaking to a single human.
For many, it’s quite worthwhile: Imagine paying bills over the phone, without ever having to speak to someone and give out confidential information, knowing it is safe in an encrypted data system. Using an IVR system to process credit card payments or accept checks over the phone can save a company time and money – and guarantee customer satisfaction, where they can achieve their goals without waiting for a customer service representative to help out.
But using voice automation as a sole solution isn’t always the ultimate way to service your customers when a live person is all they need to allay their fears. Americans love to complain about call centers, and when the 2011 ratings from the American Customer Satisfaction Index indicated that Bank of America is America’s most hated company, it’s not hard to assume why: At a typical Bank of America call center, customers are put through multiple IVR-run automatic call screens before being taken to a live service representative, should they desire one. That’s not to say that the automated calls don’t help: For some customers, the ability to seamlessly check a bank balance by pressing keys on their phone, without spending the time to speak to anyone, is also valuable.
Ultimately, the answer depends on your organization’s industry and more importantly, customer requirements. If customers are calling for service, technical support, and repairs, it’s beneficial to have as many representatives as possible, available to assist in their queries. Of course, automatic systems can be used to lower costs and increase service rates – for example, online payment processing while on the phone with customers, or managing queries via a Customer Management System. If customers want to make phone payments quickly and simply, however, an IVR option might be the right option. Keep your customers happy and your employees stress-free, for a productive company all around.