T-Mobile says goodbye to IVR

In August, T-Mobile very publicly announced that they would be doing away with its IVR systems in an effort to banish ‘customer service hell’ to the dustbin of history. They were so happy with this move that they created a long-form advertisement to ensure everyone knows about their decision. The cynics amongst us may question whether T-Mobile is simply jumping on the anti-IVR bandwagon. After all, there’s been a considerable amount of talk about how IVR isn’t favoured by the general public but few suggestions of alternatives.

T-Mobile’s response has been to imply that they’ll be returning to a customer service system staffed by human agents. While this may seem laudable, it is also likely to prove unsustainable in the long run. There’s a reason that IVR became a popular customer service management mechanism and, contrary to what T-Mobile believe, the technology’s positives far outweigh the negatives.

Should you do away with IVR?

red telephone t mobile ivr

Following T-Mobile’s announcement, there will be many in the customer service industry questioning whether the move away from IVR is a long-term trend or just a quick gimmick. They’ll also be asking whether they should make the same move. The answer is a resounding ‘no.’

To do away with IVR is to ignore the reality of the modern customer service environment entirely and to contradict some of the most important ideas in contemporary customer service thinking. For instance, many of those people arguing that IVR should be eradicated are the same people arguing for the importance of the omnichannel approach. The omnichannel approach depends on maintaining quick and easy access to a variety of channels and being able to switch between them seamlessly. When it comes to telephony, IVR is what makes the phone quick, easy, efficient, and affordable. In other words, IVR an essential feature of the modern omnichannel system.

Improve your IVR

It’s also important to note that the idea that any system that is not satisfying 100% of its users should be scrapped, rather than improved, is simplistic and counter-productive. Rather than doing away with IVR, serious efforts have been made to shape and mould it into an increasingly powerful tool that benefits businesses, public sector organisations, and users.

If you ask users what is most frustrating about IVR, they’re likely to tell you that it’s the wait time, annoying hold music, and complicated menus in which it’s easy to get lost. The first of these criticisms is not an IVR issue. IVR systems decrease wait times by ensuring that customers get to speak to the relevant human agent first time. The second two faults are symptoms of a poorly designed IVR system and are easily rectified. This leads us to two conclusions;

  1. Many of the faults associated with IVR are instances of poor design and implementation.
  2. Some of the faults associated with IVR aren’t inherently IVR problems. Instead, they’re an attribute of the channel (telephony). No one is arguing that businesses should do away with telephony completely, so it would seem as though IVR is taking the brunt of consumer frustrations, even though it’s not necessarily at fault.
  3. Outdated perception of IVR

    4 people holding smartphones t mobile ivr

    Many people also make judgements about IVR based on outdated perceptions of the technology. They ignore the fact that AI is playing an increasingly important role in contemporary IVR systems and that these systems are beginning to change beyond all recognition. Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) software, coupled with AI technology, is switching the focus from keypad responses to voice-based responses.

    This goes much further than simple one-word responses, too. New IVR systems can interpret caller intent and bring a conversational approach to the IVR experience. This is the same conversational approach that is causing chatbots to be heralded as a game-changer in the customer service industry. Rather than businesses getting rid of IVR, they should be aiming to implement advanced and developed versions of it.

    IVR is nothing without omnichannel

    It’s also important to recognise that future incarnations of IVR will be nothing on their own and will only succeed if implemented within a carefully considered omnichannel system. If you take any customer service technology and isolate it, some glaring weaknesses and drawbacks would make each platform seem fatally flawed. However, adopting an omnichannel approach necessitates viewing each channel as part of an interconnected whole. IVR plays a vital role in this whole and will continue to do so for a considerable amount of time.

    Benefits of IVR

    The benefits of an efficient IVR system are demonstrated by some interesting statistics concerning growing self-serve use. For instance, Gartner believes that by 2020, customers will be able to handle around 85% of their interactions with a company without ever speaking to a human agent. Currently, 83% use self-serve options where available.

    The cost-effective nature of IVR is supported by the fact that a call to a live agent typically costs a business £4-10, whereas IVR costs around 20p an interaction. This means that the savings associated with IVR are enormous and that any customer service department utilising a fully staffed call centre are going to struggle to compete with those operating effective IVR systems. While T-Mobile may have declared that IVR is dead, they’ve yet to announce how they’re going to ensure customer calls are answered by human agents in a reasonable amount of time, without losing ground against their rivals or suffering significant financial losses.

    What next?

    Though T-Mobile would have you believe that IVR is dead, the technology is very much alive and kicking and will play a vital role in future customer service systems. Not only is it cost-effective and efficient, but it’s also constantly evolving, adapting, and incorporating new technologies into its design. The perception of IVR may not be as positive as other channels but many base their arguments on outdated conceptions of what the technology is and what it does. When designed and implemented well, it’s a useful customer service tool that streamlines the customer experience and improves a business’ ability to handle customer interactions.

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