There is a lot of press
these days on the transition of touch-tone driven IVR to speech
recognition systems. The concept is to make the interactions easier,
faster, and more conversational for the caller, resulting in a higher
self-service completion rate. But many of us have IVR systems that we
are likely to keep for some time yet and need to maximize the
utilization. And if you are converting, some time invested on a
meaningful design of the interaction scripts is time well spent.
Let's go back to the
basic reasons why most call centers implemented IVR in the first place.
It might have been to automate the mundane easy calls so that we didn't
have to answer those calls with a more-expensive human agent. Or it
could have been that our customers wanted longer hours when they could
access the company, but we didn't have the staff for those low-volume
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In some cases, the IVR
was implemented as a way to provide a service that simply couldn't be
handled by human agents, such as private replies to follow-ups on
medical test results, or support in languages that none of the staff
could speak. Perhaps customers drove the decision by demanding an
automated solution that wouldn't require an agent. Regardless of which
of these reasons, or some others that may have justified the investment,
the primary purpose is to provide the customer with a self-service
It is really important
to keep the customer at the center of the design process. Often the
scripts are confusing to the customer and make it difficult for the
customer to complete their interactions with the system. The top ten
common errors in script design include the following:
layers –A layer is a set of menus that is
connected to additional sets of choices. For example, if the first
set of choices asks if the call is about appliances or furniture and
the caller selects appliances, then the second layer of menus might
list the various appliances and ask the caller to select one of
them. There should never be more than 3 layers as it takes too long
and frustrates callers.
loops – An endless loop occurs when the
choices provided do not include an escape option that would take the
caller to the call center agent (or even an after-hours recording).
So if the caller does not hear a choice that corresponds to their
issue, they just keep hearing that list over and over with no
of caller – If the caller does not make a
selection the first time through a menu, many systems replay the
options again. But in some cases, if the caller does not make a
selection, the system simply disconnects. This is incredibly rude
and frustrating for the caller. The system should direct the call to
the call center agent (or to the after-hours recording) rather than
industry jargon – It is unreasonable to
assume that callers will understand all of the unique terms and
acronyms of our businesses. So if the caller is presented with a
list of choices such as, press 1 for HMO, press 2 for PPO, or press
3 for Indemnity, it is likely that many will make a random choice
ending up in the wrong system or agent group. Use clear common
language, or ask the caller to enter their customer ID number so the
system can look up the correct match for them instead.
changing menus – Repeat callers become
familiar with the numbers that correspond to their common choices
and move through the menus without listening to the lists. This is a
lot like many of us use our voice mail options without listening to
the instructions for the thousandth time. But if you change the
options, you force these callers to spend more time listening which
frustrates them and costs you money. Change if you must, but no more
often than is really necessary to improve results.
first, menu item second – The script
should provide the description of the choice first and then tell the
caller which digit to press. If the number is given first, the
caller may forget which number it was by the time the right
description is heard. This results in the caller having to repeat
the menu, causing caller frustration and added cost to the company.
Unprofessional scripts –This is a problem
with speech recognitions systems more than IVRs. Just because the
system can sound more like a human interaction rather than "canned
Sally" is no reason to get cute with the script. It might work in
some specific companies with a fun-loving brand image, but it can
comes off as unprofessional. It is fine to sound friendly and
encouraging, but don't go too far.
Now that you know what
not to do, let's explore some tips for good design. The most important
thing to remember is that the system is meant to assist the callers in
doing something for themselves. The benefits of that are caller
satisfaction, higher utilization, fewer calls to agents, and lower
overall cost. Poor design results in high drop out rates to agents,
caller frustration, and poor completion rates in the system. So the
stakes are high.
Here are some
suggestions on how to create user-friendly and useful scripts:
Use a team
to develop scripts –The team will need to
involve the IT/Telecom staff who can ensure that what is desired is
possible, and can help the team to explore all the possibilities of
the system. The call center should be represented by both a manager
and an agent. The manager knows what is desired, but the agent knows
what customer ask for time and time again. Someone from marketing
may also be a good addition to ensure that the system supports the
brand image of the organization. If you can tap into customer input
at this point, it can be very useful as well.
choices in logical order –In many cases,
the choices should start with the item that callers select most
often. This will minimize the caller's time listening for their
choice and toll-free service cost. However, there are some cases
when the first choices are the small-volume but specialized items
that need to be captured, with the bulk falling into the "all other
inquiries" category. In that case, the last item in the menu may get
the highest volume, but the unique items will have been pulled out
Test a new
script thoroughly – The script and flow
should be documented in a written document that is easily revised.
Any new script should be tested in a variety of ways. Does each
choice take the caller to the correct destination? Will callers who
don't understand industry jargon understand the choices and make the
correct one most of the time? Testing with outsiders is a good step
and there are services that provide that massive testing process,
but a group of non-employees such as family members can be used to
test it as well. The last test should be with a group of user
volunteers. Listen to the feedback of these testers and make the
necessary adjustments before putting the script on line. This is not
a time for "pride of authorship".
system regularly – It is not enough to
test a new script when it is implemented. The system menus should be
tested regularly (at least once a month) to ensure that they
continue to work properly, route to the desired agent group, and
still make sense for the business. Minor changes in the ACD queues
can result in routing to unexpected places by the IVR, for example.
One company had planned to implement a division of customers by
alphabet but wasn't quite ready to do that when the initial scripts
were designed. So the initial script said, "If your company name
begins with A through Z press 2". This script held the place of the
divisions by letter that would follow shortly. But because the
company decided not to divide by alphabet later on and failed to
test the scripts regularly, 2 years later that same message was
playing on every call. Imagine how odd that must have sounded to
callers, and how much additional toll-free call expense the company
incurred as a result.
In summary, a
well-design IVR or speech recognition system is a benefit to both
callers and the company. Customers can accomplish their business easily
and quickly and the company can meet customer needs with minimal cost.
So it is worth spending the time to do it right. Don't put your
customers into endless loops or summarily disconnect them, or they may
disconnect you from their wallets, and take their business elsewhere.
Maggie Klenke is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School which
provides training and educational programs for call centers. She is also
an active industry consultant with more than 30 years of experience in
telecommunications systems and call center management.
About The Call
The Call Center School provides call center education services including
an e-learning curriculum for frontline agents, a 7-track, 50-topic web
seminar program entitled The Masters Series in Call Center Management
delivered via the Internet, classroom courses available as public
seminars or private on-site programs, and call center management books.