Interactive Voice Response still relevant in the digital age


By Gugu Lourie

Sometimes when one calls a mobile phone or landline operator a voice prompt says: “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed” – and yet the reality might be that the options haven’t changed in years.

You can blame the anomaly on the use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. Such technology is usually used by automated customer services for mobile or landline phones. It consists of voice recordings menu, accessible by pressing selected numbers on your device.

Although this technology is still being used in the digital era it has resulted in numerous complaints. The problems with IVR are compounded by the fact that “everything” seems to be moving into the digital world.

Telecoms analysts Frost & Sullivan says in a recent report that self-service in customer care is moving to the web and social media as the Millennials take to mobile devices with a do-it-yourself mentality.

The study backs the assertion often made in jest that IVR is irritating, but seems not to be dying a slow death.

“When self-service fails them, customers turn to the contact centre, which typically means journeying through that perennial front door, the IVR application,” reads the report in part.

“In addition, in certain areas of the world, IVR is still a hot commodity as a way of providing self-service in areas where internet access is scarce, yet mobile phones plentiful. Still, complaints about this channel abound.”

Frost & Sullivan says unlike the first two decades of IVR, when making transactions through a touch-tone interface was acceptable, consumers now expect more.

“As new channels improve, such as mobile applications or corporate websites, customers grow accustomed to greater levels of control, information, and self-service.”

During the compilation of its report, Frost & Sullivan randomly called a company only to be greeted by an IVR message: “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed”. The truth was that the menu options had not changed in years.

The reported said what was more frustrating was encountering an IVR in which said that the menu options “may have changed”.

In fact, that prompt was one of many complaints registered by consumers against IVR, which elevated it into the least liked channel in customer care.

Consider these others:

  • Asking callers to provide data to the IVR, such as an account number, only to have the agent ask for it again once the caller is transferred
  • Too many menu choices
  • Wrong or inadequate menu choices
  • Long and confusing prompts
  • Changing requirements or capabilities on the user interface (for instance allowing speech and DTMF, then switching to just one)
  • Making callers feel that the IVR is strictly there as an impediment to speaking with an agent
  • Making it difficult or nearly impossible to get to an agent
  • Not carrying context and content from the IVR to the agent.

Notwithstanding these complaints Frost & Sullivan says somehow “IVR trundles on”.

Industry experts still believe that IVR should be used to enhance customer experience and not replace it. For example, IVR should be used for customers to get their invoices, check balances and paying bills. This in return helps companies to reduce their call centre costs.

That said, IVR remains one of the least like technologies by customers who want to interact with humans when they have an issue or are seeking clarity.

The Frost & Sullivan report also said there were tens of thousands of IVR applications that were perfectly designed to do a good job.

The report identifies, among other uses, appointment confirmations and credit card activations as applications that field thousands of calls a day. IVR can do these simple tasks really well without the need for an agent.

“Many (IVR responses) are simple, intuitive and don’t frustrate callers,” the report found.

So brace yourself for now because IVR technology is here to stay.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here