11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is now an essential component of all modern contact centres. It helps cut costs, is available 24/7, ensures human agents are deployed more efficiently and allows customers to self-serve.

However, IVR can also be problematic and, if you don’t get it right, you’re likely to frustrate and anger customers. Considering that 89% of consumers have switched their allegiance to a competitor after a poor customer service experience, it’s clear that all IVR issues need to be rectified immediately.

With this in mind, we thought we’d take an in-depth look at 11 of the top problems associated with IVR systems and provide you with actionable steps to solve them.

  1. A high abandonment rate – how to reduce IVR abandons

A high abandonment rate is problematic for all organisations. It means that users are dropping out of the customer service system rather than self-serving or waiting to be put through to a human agent.

This can be disastrous for an organisation’s reputation and may well result in customers switching to competitors. The importance of low abandonment rates and excellent customer service is emphasised by the recent findings that 96% of consumers believe customer service determines the extent of their loyalty to a brand.

In order to overcome the issue, it’s necessary to take a number of steps.

  • Identify when and where callers are abandoning. Some abandons are to be expected (some users simply won’t interact with IVR systems or may be distracted while on the phone) – you need to identify those that occur out of frustration.
  • For this reason, examine those abandons that take place after a considerable amount of time has been spent on the phone, that show no self-serve completion, or where the customer hangs-up prior to being placed in the queue.
  • Once identified, listen back to the calls and isolate recurring issues. Customers may be frustrated because IVR takes them down the wrong path, they have to re-enter information, or they don’t understand what the IVR is saying.
  • Once the root cause has been established, take steps to prevent callers abandoning the system.
11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

  1. Lack of caller information – how to correctly identify callers

One in three customers has abandoned a business because its service lacked any sense of personalisation (nextiva.com)

That’s a remarkable number of customers being lost because organisations aren’t making the most of the technology at their disposal.

Correctly identifying a customer allows you to provide superior service, routing them through IVR more effectively and allowing them to successfully self-serve more often.

In some cases, accurate customer identification will allow you to employ a proactive messaging strategy. This involves communicating important and relevant information to a customer without them having to navigate through the IVR system.

It also stops them from having to input information again and again, each time they call.

As with most IVR problems, the solution involves identifying and isolating the particular part(s) of IVR that’s causing the issue. With identification problems, this is typically one of the following:

  • Caller doesn’t know what information they need to provide
  • The caller doesn’t have the necessary information available
  • IVR requests information that it struggles to record accurately (email addresses are notoriously difficult to capture).
  • Issues with data retrieval from the customer database.

Depending on the cause of the problem, you may then have to change the information required to identify a customer, alter the IVR script, or run diagnostics on your back-end systems.

  1. Poor call containment – how to maximise self-service

Call containment measures the percentage of customers who are able to complete their enquiry using self-serve technologies. In other words, it’s the number of callers who complete without needing to speak to a human agent.

If you’re struggling with a poor call containment rate, your IVR system isn’t fulfilling one of its principal functions – providing self-serve automation for high-volume enquiries.

This means you’re paying for a technology that isn’t fulfilling its potential.

  • First, identify those enquiries that you should be able to complete via self-serve but that ended up with a human agent. A good way of doing this is by having your agents log any completed calls of this nature.
  • Listen to those calls and identify what the human agent did differently to the self-serve system in order to complete the enquiry. In most cases, the problem is traced back to difficulties inputting information or an unclear script.

It’s also important that you understand how to differentiate between enquiries that require agent intervention and those that can be automated. All too often, IVR fails because organisations don’t have the expertise required to recognise what enquiries can be automated.

11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

  1. High transfer rates – how to ensure accurate IVR navigation

Though IVR ensures a large percentage of customers are able to self-serve, many will still want or need to speak to a human agent.

One of IVR’s primary functions is to route callers quickly to the most appropriate human agent available. If customers are reaching the wrong human agent after passing through the IVR system, they’ll need to be transferred to the right department or individual.

This is frustrating for the caller, wastes valuable agent time, and increases the customer’s wait time.

A whopping 72% of consumers view having to talk to multiple agents as constituting poor customer service.

Here, the problem is that callers are not responding in the anticipated way. Consequently, you need to work out where the customers’ understanding and your expectations diverge.

  • Start by finding those calls that went through to a human agent but could have been handled in self-serve, as well as those calls that reached the wrong agent and had to be transferred.
  • Listen back to those calls. They should provide insight into the purpose of the enquiry.
  • Trace the customer’s call back through the IVR system. This should allow you to identify the point at which the customer made the wrong decision.

Here, you’re likely to find that the error was made because:

  • The way the prompt is worded isn’t the same as the way the customer would describe their problem or enquiry.
  • There are too many choices on offer.
  • It’s too easy to “zero out” and ask to be put through to a human agent.

  1. Repeating information – how to ensure your IVR gets it right first time

If there’s one thing customers really can’t stand, it’s having to provide the same piece of information again and again.

This typically occurs for one of two reasons.

  1. The IVR system is unable to understand or capture the information provided.
  2. Your human agents aren’t able to access the information customers have already provided as they passed through the IVR system.

In the first case, it may be necessary to refine the IVR’s natural speech capture capabilities or request simpler information from the customer.

In the second case, organisations will need to consider how they can begin implementing an omnichannel strategy that allows for the free movement of information and customers between channels.

This means connecting to digital channels, such as online forms and chatbots.

11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

  1. Customers with no way out – how to keep customers satisfied

The top customer frustration with IVR systems is being locked in, with no way to reach a human agent.

In fact, one in three customers says that not being able to reach a human agent is the most frustrating aspect of poor customer service provision.

While this may seem a relatively easy problem to solve – just provide a “zero out” option in every menu – IVR systems must strike a balance. If you make zero-ing out too easy, customers are less likely to self-serve and more likely to jump straight to a human agent.

In many cases, the solution is to make the “zero out” option available at every menu level but not advertise this fact.

  1. Complex menus – how to prioritise self-serve options

If your IVR is too complex, callers will also tend to zero out or hang up quickly, limiting the success of the system.

Consequently, all IVR systems should attempt to reduce the number of menu layers a caller has to go through before they’re transferred to a human agent or they’re able to successfully self-serve.

As a general rule of thumb, three menu layers should be enough to get the job done. However, some organisations will require an additional layer or two. Some will be able to make do with fewer.

There are also a number of other changes you can make to simplify navigation and ease use. They include:

  • Putting the most popular options first. If the vast majority of customers are calling to pay a bill, make sure this option is number one on your menu.
  • Limit the number of options available at each menu. Any more than five options is typically too many to remember.
  • Pause between options.
11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

  1. Stilted scripts and poor recording – how to create natural IVR scripts

If you’re not writing your scripts with the help of customers, consumers, or professional IVR designers, there’s a good chance they’ll end up less than perfect.

When an organisation designs an IVR script, they tend to write it from their own perspective. They’ll employ industry-specific jargon and describe options in ways that don’t resonate with the intended audience. Often, they’ll make the script far too complicated, causing the caller to lose track of their options or grow frustrated.

This can be overcome in a number of ways:

  1. No jargon – ensure every word can be easily understood by all callers.
  2. Simple English – try and make the phrasing as simple as possible. The language used needs to be relatable.
  3. Use a friendly tone of voice – callers don’t want to be greeted by a cold and robotic IVR system, they prefer a friendly tone.

However, the easiest way to avoid stilted scripts is to employ the services of experienced IVR professionals who will help you avoid common mistakes.

  1. A lack of personality – how to ensure IVR embodies your brand

Though IVR may not seem the most obvious arena in which to develop your brand, you should make an effort to ensure your telephony service does reflect your personality and values.

Research has shown that we attribute voices complex character traits within a second or two of hearing them. This means that your recorded IVR voice needs to reflect the qualities you want associated with your brand (voxgen.com)>

A fitness centre might want to use something a little more “high-energy,” while a financial institution will likely be more authoritative and professional.

Once you’ve settled on your brand’s voice, it’s absolutely essential that you test it on customers. Though you may feel you’ve struck the perfect tone, only focus groups will tell you whether you’re right.

11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

  1. IVR downtime – how testing guarantees your IVR system is good to go

Nothing is more damaging to an IVR system than downtime or design errors. Not only are they unprofessional, but they also prevent customers from getting in touch. If they’re not getting in touch, they’re looking elsewhere and reaching out to competitors.

Testing is absolutely key to ensuring your IVR system is good to go. Of particular importance is stress-testing. This allows you to see how your system performs when placed under heavy loads and is essential prior to any period in which you’re expecting high call volumes.

Likewise, organisations need to test to ensure that there are no broken menus or opportunities for customers to get stuck in never-ending loops.

Ultimately, it’s better to delay IVR implementation than launch a sub-standard service.

  1. Unprepared human agents – how to provide satisfactory answers

If a human agent is unable to answer a customer enquiry in a satisfactory manner, it won’t matter how effective your IVR system is.

44% of consumers report receiving the wrong answer from a customer service agent in the past. This negates all the hard work that’s gone into developing an efficient IVR system.

In fact, it could be argued that it makes your IVR system redundant.

After all, what’s the point in investing in telephony routing technology if it doesn’t matter who the customer speaks to as no agent has the answer?

The only solution to this problem is training. Invest in your human agents as you would any other customer service technology and it will pay dividends. Literally.

11 Problems With IVR Systems (and how to solve them)

What Next?

This guide was created with the intention of helping your organisation troubleshoot IVR problems. However, a truly effective IVR requires the experience of industry experts.

That’s where we come in.

At Inform, we work with public and private sector organisations to design, build and refine IVR systems that automate high volume enquiries, free-up human agents, and allow you to reduce your customer service expenditure.

More often than not, it makes sense to work with specialists. When it comes to IVR, we’re those specialists.

Have a question or want further information on improving customer service using IVR Telephony? Our expert team have been providing customer contact solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.

What do you think?

What’s your experience of using IVR systems for your business? Success or uphill struggle? Leave a comment below and let us know!