Can IVR destroy the customer experience? Press one or say “Yes”…

by Kim Campbell in Contact Center Technology, Customer Service Outsourcing, Kim Campbell

We have all been there. We call the toll-free number and are greeted by the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system:

“Welcome to XYZ Corporation. Para Español oprima numero dos….”

Okay, so we know we are not talking to a real person, but we are still optimistic that with a simple yes or no and a couple of pokes of the keypad, we will get the information or support we need. And sometimes it works exactly as intended. However, according to J.D. Power and Associates, a good IVR experience is the exception, not the rule.

Their research showed that 33% of overall caller satisfaction is determined by the IVR experience. Unfortunately, they also found that IVR is a “weak link” for most organizations, potentially making situations worse and turning otherwise happy – or at least neutral – customers to become dissatisfied. When compared to the users’ experience with customer service representatives (CSRs), IVR was a better experience only 7% of the time.

To better understand how IVR shapes up in terms of user experience, it is useful to look at the experience in terms of the Tempkin Group’s SLICE-B model and its six elements of an experience. Each element in the model impacts the overall quality of the experience. These elements are as follows:

  1. Start – To what extent is the user drawn into the experience?
  2. Locate – How easily can the customer get to what he or she needs?
  3. Interact – How well does the customer understand and feel in control of what is happening?
  4. Complete – To what extent does the customer accomplish what he or she is seeking to accomplish?
  5. End – How well is the customer transitioned to next steps, if any?
  6. Brand Coherence – How effectively is the company’s brand reinforced?

So how does IVR stack up against SLICE-B? Can IVR destroy the customer experience? Let’s look at some all-too-common pre-recorded and/or text-to-speech (TTS) statements to find out.


Please select from the following nine choices…

IVR works best with simple, common requests. For these, IVR can produce a satisfactory customer experience. For complex customer service needs or unique requests, however, the odds of an unsatisfactory experience increase with the number of options in each menu. Everyone has had the experience of listening to all the options, only to realize the one closest to what they needed was somewhere up near the top of the list. Although the research varies on how many options the average person can keep in their memory, the general consensus suggests the number is 3 or 4.

Long, deep menu trees score poorly on the second and third elements of the experience. It is not only difficult to locate the appropriate option, but because the interaction is only one-way, the user does not know at any given point if and when they will reach the right menu item. Granted, after repeated use of a complex IVR menu, users can learn what they need to do, reducing the uncertainty and lack of control in subsequent uses. However, according to Forrester, 45% of customers abandon the transaction if they are not satisfied quickly, so they may not stick around long enough to remember anything but their bad experience.


I’m sorry, that is an invalid response…

The customer knows what he or she wants. IVR systems try to predict what customers may be calling for, and they attempt to provide a path for the customer to get there. Unfortunately, instead of being able to say “I need this” and then immediately get it, customers have to patiently jab keys or pronounce responses in the hopes of ultimately getting what they called for. This is why Forrester research has shown that the highest satisfaction ratings consistently go to live assistance.

The fourth and fifth elements of user experience – complete and end, accomplishing what they called for and being effectively transitioned to next steps – fall apart when the user is unable to get a satisfactory result. Being able to bounce out to a live agent may rescue the transaction, but all too often the customer is not offered that option and the experience has already been damaged.


Press pound to return to the Main Menu…

Back in 2001, Natalee Dyke wrote an article for CRM Magazine (now DestinationCRM) entitled “IVR Hell.” Since then, the term has been used literally thousands of times by reporters, journalists and bloggers to describe countless horror stories of being trapped in the twisted trees and endless loops of ill-conceived and poorly designed IVR experiences. And what ultimately suffers is the sixth and final element of any user experience – your brand.


If your IVR system could use some help from an experience team of outsourced customer service pros – or you want to avoid it altogether – you should give us a call. We would be happy to help you create superior customer experiences.

Comments are closed.