IVR Design Tip: The Magic Number Seven (7)

Despite what may generate lots of head nodding, most IVR systems are not as dysfunctional as a few pundits might like you to believe.  Not that there isn’t room for continuous improvement however.

Have you ever called an IVR system and initially felt  like you were led down a wrong path, or when you try to get to the right path, it takes you even deeper and farther from your goal?  Ever had so many menu choices you weren’t quite sure which option to choose in the first place? This has been a common challenge in IVR design when companies try to design an IVR system with either too many features, or try to solve too many problems through automation alone.

A recurring theme you hear from Acclaim Telecom regarding IVR design is “Keep your IVR system as simple and intuitive as possible“.

A research paper published in the late 1950s by renowned psychologist George Armitage Miller was titled, “The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”. This paper suggests that seven (plus or minus two) is the magic number that characterizes people’s memory performance on random lists of letters, words, numbers, or almost any kind of meaningful familiar item.  Further research revealed that the short term memory of a person depends on the type of information being remembered, (e.g., memory is around seven for digits, around six for letters, and around 5 for words).  And unfortunately since then, time has not improved our short term memory.

The good news is the challenge of the number seven can be overcome.  Whether a huge call center or a business with just a few customer service representatives; the answer to this IVR challenge may be right under your fingers tips.  Your customer service representatives are one of your best resources for either helping design, re-design, or enhance your IVR system.  It can be as easy as asking them a few simple questions such as:

What do customers call about most commonly that are not solved with the IVR system?

Ask for the exact words the customer’s use to get assistance for the specific tasks, and incorporate them into your menus.  This will help the customer get to the option they require, without having to guess at whether it’s appropriate or not.

What are the biggest complaints about the automated IVR system?

This can be subjective, however listen carefully to the answer to see if you can determine what the true problem is.  It may be as simple as fixing menu option wording, or finding a better way to ask for account information.

What do your customers tell you would be a beneficial addition to the IVR system?

Customers will tell you what they want.  Obviously there will be some ‘pie in the sky’ requests, but for the most part the caller may say very simply, “I’d like to be able to pay my bill without having to talk to someone”, or “After four option selections I want to speak with a live agent”.

Sometimes the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) approach can be the most effective.  But if you must convey a lot of information to your customers, consider giving them an option to skip through, or trim the message to the most important of the key points and possibly allowing them a further option to hear more on that particular subject.  There’s nothing worse than being stuck listening to a message which seems endless, or worse, not relevant to their immediate needs while being forced to listen to the entire message before being able to move to the next option.

On a closing note, here is one additional suggestion we hope all owners of an IVR system perform.  Review your IVR call flow at least once every six months. Even if your business has not changed during that six month period, people’s expectations and your competitors do change.  Keeping your system fresh and current will go far in making your customers happy and showing you pay attention to their needs.

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