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November, 2011

IVR systems can be both difficult to design and set up, and difficult to manage and update, resulting in low usability and user frustration. So, in terms of technology, what are the features of an easy-to-design, easy-to-manage IVR system? Here’s our top six.

While in Japan last week, your correspondent was bemused to hear an industry colleague say that Japanese people prefer talking to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems rather than live call center agents, because they can hang up at any time without causing offence. Behind the cultural observation lies a more universal one: that people (worldwide) find many IVR systems frustrating and inadequate, and eventually give up. Why? Because they just don’t do an effective job. But why? Perhaps because they can be both difficult to design and set up, and difficult to manage and update once they are in place.

That got us thinking: in terms of technology, what are the features of an easy-to-design, easy-to-manage IVR system? Here’s our top six:

The system should be

  1. accessible by non-programmers. No more XML-based input systems. Modern scripting systems allow all activities to be described in flow diagrams in natural language
  2. open, allowing users to deploy whatever Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) or Text to Speech (TTS) product they choose
  3. scalable, allowing capacity increase with no extra hardware and zero downtimeAlso,
  4. all IVR scripts should provide for multiple language support (so that UK tools can easily be used in Japan, for instance)
  5. simple but effective test tools should be available to get new scripts online in hours/ days, not weeks/ months
  6. the scripting language should provide for a rich range of database and call control functions that can be easily plugged in

And this last point is probably the key one. Consider how many times you have found yourself in an IVR queue, giving out your details. Then maybe you get to talk to an agent, and what do they do? Often as not, they ask you for the same details! If you ask why, they say “it’s for security reasons”. Rubbish; it’s because the darned IVR system couldn’t pass your details across to the live agent – who is in another system. A great way to lose customers – and there’s no excuse for it.

Any IVR (or call center) system should be able to transfer a call as the caller needs, and ensure that all relevant data supplied by the caller, as well as access to any data held by the call center, goes with the transfer.

A well-designed, well-managed IVR system will help, not hinder. No user should feel the need to hang up in frustration, whether in Japan or anywhere else. Once again, choice of technology makes all the difference between satisfaction and frustra…

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