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Mythbusters: Debunking 5 common IVR myths

When someone calls your company and hears the automated IVR greeting, they may groan. Many IVRs do not meet customer expectations and instead create angry customers. As frustration grows, so too do the stereotypes about the IVR and what it can or can’t do. In this post, Chris Caile refutes the 5 most common myths surrounding the IVR and customer expectations.
Conversational IVR can improve the customer experience and enhance business results.

It’s easy to spoof an IVR experience. When not properly designed, the IVR can be cumbersome and difficult to navigate, and as a result it becomes nothing more than a witty caricature. But what if many of the pre-conceived ideas consumers and businesses have about an IVR are wrong? Today, we’ll debunk 5 of these myths and I encourage you to listen carefully as your opinion may be changed.


Myth #1 – Your customers care that your menu options have changed

Far too many times an IVR greets callers with the random command that they, “Listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed.” Nobody cares if your company updates your IVR menu. Callers just want the issue resolved fast, and adding this type of unnecessary greeting only adds to their frustration.

The simplest fix is to drop that prompt or, if you want to take your IVR game to the next level, upgrade to a Natural Language Understanding (NLU) solution. It allows callers to be greeted with a more user-friendly prompt such as, “Thanks for calling ABC Company, how can I help you today?” Many companies are adopting this approach, which provides callers with a friendly greeting and allows them to say in their own words what they want to achieve with no need to remember menu options.


Myth #2 – Customers prefer to talk to live agents, even for the simplest transactions

Ever call a friend HOPING to leave a message but instead they actually answer? Sometimes we like to use the phone for convenience and don’t actually want to have a conversation. The same is true with the IVR. Just because someone calls your company doesn’t necessarily mean they want to talk to an agent.

In fact, many people are surprised to learn that 60-70% of callers who use the IVR would rather NOT talk to a human. Instead, they want to self-serve using an automated system, which satisfies customers and helps businesses. For example, the city of New York recognized there was a problem with its 311 system as call volumes rose and the call center couldn’t keep up with demand. By putting in an IVR with NLU, the city of New York increased call containment rates while increasing call center capability for those callers requiring an agent. Investing in the right IVR automation yields a win/win all around.


Myth #3 – Speech recognition systems never understand

“Did you say ‘Key Largo’?”

“No Chicago!”

We’ve all experienced the frustration of the IVR not recognizing our entry. It’s annoying and fuels the myth that speech recognition doesn’t work – but nothing can be further from the truth.

Today’s modern IVRs utilize advanced speech recognition engines with accuracy rates at 95% or higher. Nuance’s flagship automatic speech recognition product, Nuance Recognizer, has been a market leader for more than 15 years and supports more than 86 languages and dialects. Consider how FedEx implemented a natural language based IVR that accommodates both English and French speaking callers on one platform to deliver improved results.


Myth #4 – IVRs can’t handle detailed information or complex queries

There is a wonderful scene in the movie Forrest Gump when young Forrest is being chased by bullies and trying hard to move fast despite the braces on his legs slowing him down. After much tension and pushing he finally breaks free of the braces and runs hard and fast – and alters the course of his destiny. Today’s IVRs are that faster, unshackled Forrest, capable of so much more. They just haven’t broken free of past behavior and unlocked their full potential.

An IVR you call today with NLU can handle and transact long, complex sentences with multiple pieces of information. Yet most people only speak in short bursts of 4-5 words or less. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned that way and haven’t pushed the IVR to the next level. We have been trained all our lives to speak slowly into the IVR so it could recognize our intent. And many menus asked us to only say one word e.g. “Press 1 or say ‘Sales.’” We simply haven’t even considered saying much more.

That is changing. With the advent of powerful voice assistants, each of us is getting better at engaging voice recognition engines and asking more complex questions. And as more companies adopt NLU-based IVRs, customers will see increased benefits from their engagements and have a deeper, richer interaction that unlocks the IVR’s full potential.


Myth #5 – The fastest way to resolve an issue is to “zero out” to a live agent

It’s okay to admit it – we all get frustrated sometimes when the IVR greeting kicks in and begins to outline all the possible choices and menus. We just want to talk to a real person because we think they can help us much faster. But they can’t always.

Modern, conversational IVRs that allow customers to simply ask for what they need have been shown to deliver results faster and increase customer satisfaction. For example, Delta wanted to minimize customer frustration with their IVR and encourage self-service. They also needed to stay ahead of other airlines in a competitive industry. After introducing an IVR powered with natural language understanding, Delta saw opt-out rates at the main menu drop from 37% of callers down to just 9%. Customers preferred to use the IVR instead of asking for an agent. The right improvements to your IVR can help customers appreciate the convenience of self-service.

Five myths engaged and five myths dispelled (hopefully!). Modern, conversational IVRs are in practice today at leading companies and can do much more than we give them credit for. Help your company unlock their full IVR potential and you may find that your customer’s opinion will be changed.

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Chris Caile

About Chris Caile

Chris Caile joined Nuance in September 2015 as senior solutions marketing manager for Nuance Conversational IVR (Interactive Voice Response). Before joining Nuance, Caile worked in various marketing and sales support positions at Microsoft and Motorola and has over 20 years of experience in the high tech industry. Caile holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Illinois State University with minors in mathematics and economics.