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.

Press “9″ if you would like to hear these options again.

Operator Assistance Unavailable

IVR phone keypadCan you spot what is wrong with these messages?

“Using your touch tone keys, enter the name of the person you wish to contact starting with the last name. Press # when finished.” Or,

“To speak with someone with product knowledge, you must dial a different phone number. Please call 1-800-HLP-FAST” (Please DO NOT call this number as it is for illustrative purposes only!)

Or finally, this text message I received on my cell phone; “Call 972 – XXX-HELP if you would like additional assistance.”

Did you spot the problem?

Actually, there is nothing wrong with any of the messages if you can make the phone calls on a home or business telephone where the alphabet is clearly identified on the key pad. Anyone out there really ever take the time to memorize which 3 letters of the alphabet are on the number 5 of your phone? I certainly don’t, and the alphabet is not identified on my Blackberry cell phone numbers.

If only they had a speech recognition front end!

We all know the old saying, “First impressions are everything”. Sometimes companies overlook the most basic entry points into their companies, and miss the opportunity to maximize a positive user experience, no matter how trivial or small it may seem.

In many situations a simple application of technology brings more immediate ROI, whether measured in financial or goodwill terms. Front ending your PBX call routing systems with a speech reco application is a good example of a high use feature, valuable to almost every caller or customer, and not very expensive to implement. Plus it seems pretty obvious with more and more individuals using cell phones, and with more than 50% of all cell phones sold being smart phones, you cannot use letters to identify which number to press on your keypad.

There are a number of vendors who provide speech recognition applications for call routing applications if you happen to have an older PBX system installed and wish to upgrade. You can also look into a cloud based PBX system with integrated voice recognition capabilities that also leverage other IVR capabilities. Acclaim Telecom can help you if you wish to explore cloud based options.

But the message I want to convey is speech recognition applications do not have to be expensive or sophisticated in order to provide benefit. Take a look at all aspects of contact with your company; your main phone number, voice mail system, call center, live agent support, and mobile applications. Identify where high volume customer contact occurs, and be sure to make the user experience as easy and as productive as possible, regardless of the types of technologies employed. After all, first impressions really are everything.

A Few Personal IVR System Observations

I recently used my telephone to contact a credit reporting agency, to change the address listed on my credit report. Because I design and program IVR systems,   I was disappointed when I dialed the number and started listening to the menus. Their website already directed me to call and speak with a customer service representative.  So I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get to one. Well, no.  It took me over five minutes PLUS wait time to finally get to speak with a live person.

Once reaching them, I had to give all the information I’d just entered all over again. I asked the person if they’d received a screen pop, and they said “no.”

So then I asked if they ever got screen pops, and they said they used to. Just out of curiosity, I called back after business hours and tried to see if I could get into the ‘cloud’ of the office using standard methods of back door and random number pushing. Sure enough, I was able to get into their office voice mail system.  I probably could have left some fun messages, but I opted to blog about it instead.

You have to wonder if anyone has ever said anything to the appropriate person about this program flaw.  But I digress…

To make a long story short, the application was poorly written, broken, and had a security breech.

So what do you do? What should you ask yourself when trying to build a customer service application that your callers will love, use, and praise; instead of complain, hang up, or possibly get angry with one of your live customer service representatives?

Cheap isn’t always best. When you find an IVR development company, ask for references. I know this sounds like a no brainer, but you might be surprised how often this does not happen.  They should be able to give examples, even phone numbers of companies they have done work for. Call the applications and listen to how it sounds.  Call a customer service representative for that company and ask them what their experience has been with the IVR system, good and bad.

One caveat to keep in mind.   A good IVR firm should be able to share best practices and experiences with their customers during the analysis and design phase.  However at the end of the day, the customer makes the final decision on how the call flows operate.

Remember the point of having the IVR system. You want your  customers to be able to perform tasks that can be time consuming, repetitive, and require little to no complex decision making process .  You want your highly trained customer service representatives assisting your clients with more complex transactions and needs.  In short, you want them involved higher up the food chain of customer assistance requirements whenever possible.

However, don’t force your customer to listen to lengthy options or execute too many decisions before allowing them to speak with a customer service representative.  Most customers know when they call whether their needs can be satisfied through the normal IVR options or whether they need to speak to a live agent.  The more complex the task or need, the quicker they need to speak with a customer service agent.  You don’t want your customer service representatives receiving the brunt of a caller’s frustration because you didn’t capture basic information already provided by the caller.

Here is a suggestion to consider.  If possible, release the new application to a small audience of customers initially.  This is your test market.  It’s a great time to get feedback from callers as to how they use the system; if they were able to complete the tasks they were calling about; or if another service option might be missing.  Here is another hint.  Have the customer service representative ask the caller their opinion of the IVR system.   Don’t offer them a survey at the end of the call.  You’ll get better results and more honest answers.  And in the end, the caller will be happy that you are taking the time to show your concern about them; further creating a loyal returning customer.

Finally, try the “5 year old adolescent” test technique to check for any possible back door logic.  Just start pressing buttons on the phone.  It’s pretty simple.  Star and Pound, or do a zig zag through the digits.  If there’s a way to get out of the IVR and into the cloud of voicemail, you should be able to find it.  You don’t have to be methodical about it.  All you need to know is that it worked or didn’t.

If you find an unexpected trap door, let the IVR programmer know, and they will fix it.

If you would like to know more about good IVR design practices, hosted IVR services or on-premise IVR solutions,  contact us and we would be happy to discuss those with you.

How Speech Recognition Improves Lives, Continued

Here’s something amazing — these days, you don’t even need the power of speech to take advantage of speech recognition technology.

We’ve been talking a bit about some of the extraordinary ways speech recognition applications can improve life for everyday people, as well as businesses; and not just with IVR systems.

Previously, we highlighted a paralyzed man and father-of-four who — thanks to reality TV hit “Extreme Home Makeover” (the one where they “move that bus!” and reveal a thoroughly remodeled home for a family in need) — could live more independently in a house equipped with assistance from voice recognition. More than 250 tasks that had always been difficult to complete from his wheelchair could be done via voice commands that responded exclusively to Carl’s voice.

Here’s another inspiring way Speech Recognition technologies can help those in need:

Al Keneda lost his vocal cords — and his voice — to cancer 16 years ago.

He remembers the panic he felt when he awoke in the ICU unable to speak, and the challenges of learning to communicate without his voice. In the beginning, he communicated with a white board and a pen. Then, with something called an electrolarynx — a cylindrical metal device about 3 or 4 inches long that he holds to his throat when he speaks.

“I used this for three years before I got my voice prosthesis,” he says in the robotic voice produced by the electrolarynx. “It was a barrel of laughs.”

Recently, at a scientific conference in Washington, D.C., German researchers showed off a technology that might work even better for Keneda — once it’s perfected. The system, called EMG-based Silent Speech Recognition, relies on a computer to construct words by reading the muscles in the face.

(Read the whole inspiring story here).

The basic idea isn’t too much different than a computer learning to read lips. A person can mouth words without actually saying them, which is enough for a computer to interpret the muscle movements and detect words. So far, the technology can recognize more than 2,000 words with 90 percent accuracy.

Here at Acclaim Telecom, we love seeing how Speech Recognition can improve lives in such a broad variety of ways. And while most IVR systems are not used in the medical manner described in this blog, our goal is to use this innovative technology to make life as easy as possible for both businesses and their valued customers who utilize IVR systems.

At its core, customer service is getting folks what they need — whether by answering questions, solving problems, responding quickly to information requests, or guiding them a more complex  procedure. Our turnkey speech recognition applications can make big a difference, both simplifying the process of getting help for customers, and saving companies costs while doing it. Enterprise-critical IVR solutions are win-win, and we’ve been developing them since 1993.