Five (5) IVR Failures to Avoid

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems save companies millions of dollars a year by automating high-volume service calls. But for many reasons, customers often “zero out” and are transferred to a live customer service agent. This is a major failure of an IVR system, and such failures have a direct impact on customer satisfaction and return on investment. Unfortunately, once implemented, few companies know how they might improve IVR system utilization. Operational cost savings is one of the primary drivers for implementing an IVR system. It costs much less to service a customer call via an automated IVR system than it does with a customer service agent. On average, an IVR system costs two-to-four cents per minute, versus an agent at three-to-five dollars to handle the same call. It stands to reason, incremental improvements in IVR utilization can significantly impact ROI. Increasing automation by only 1-2% can result in millions of dollars in savings. Case in point: When a large financial services company that takes 200,000 calls a day increased its automation by 1-2%, it saw a $1.5 million per year savings.

But that’s not all. Contrary to popular belief, improvements in IVR utilization can actually increase customer satisfaction. The reality is this: Customers want easy access to information. They typically don’t care if they get that information from a customer service agent or an IVR system – as long as they get the accurate and timely information
they need, easily and efficiently. Clearly, a little bit of automation can go a long way to increasing your cost savings and the ROI of your IVR system, and improving customer
service. Here are five ways IVR systems fail, and tips for increasing utilization. When evaluating IVR systems, consider whether they provide the flexibility needed to keep customers from “zeroing out.”

1. Identification and Authentication Failure

When a call comes in, the IVR application must first identify and authenticate the caller. There is no way around it. The system must ensure that the caller is who he says he is before any kind of request can be granted, issue addressed or information dispensed. It doesn’t matter how well the IVR system is designed otherwise; if it can’t identify and authenticate the caller, the system will fail and the call will go to a live customer agent, frustrating the caller in the process. Look for an IVR that separates the identification and authentication processes and makes the difficulty of the processes reflect the sensitivity
of the information provided by the IVR. For example, the IVR might perform a caller ID match to identify the caller by the number they’re calling from. Then, common information that the caller is likely to know (such as the last four digits of the caller’s social security number) can easily and partially authenticate him/her. This “partial authentication” information may be enough to establish a level of trust that is sufficient
for providing an account balance. However, it’s not enough information to allow the caller to complete tasks like changing a PIN or transferring funds. For those more complex and sensitive tasks, your IVR application will require full authentication, including full SSN, security questions, PIN, etc. Thus, you establish identification and authentication processes according to the task. For those tasks deemed highly secure or covered by compliance mandates, you fully authenticate the caller. For less sensitive tasks, your application can partially authenticate, creating an easy to use and less error prone application for the majority of callers. Adding caller ID and partial authentication to your IVR application will increase utilization and provide an instant ROI for this enhancement.

2. Confusing Menus Failure

Offering too many options. Offering rarely chosen options before popular options. Sending callers to the wrong option… These are all signs that an IVR system menu is poorly designed. When callers cannot easily find the task they want and successfully navigate through the IVR system, they often are quickly frustrated and opt out to speak to an agent. In addition, offer high volume choices first. It can be confusing and
frustrating for callers if they have to listen to several options before getting to the one they want. Also, make sure that the IVR system works properly. If the caller presses three, are they directed to the proper branch in the tree? If your application supports speech, is the system accommodating noisy environments with touchtone fall back?
Has the IVR system changed in accordance with customer host system changes? Occasionally testing your IVR system will ensure that the menus are logical and well written, and that the system is operating correctly.

3. Unavailable Task Failure

An IVR system will fail if the application doesn’t offer the information or tasks callers are looking for. If the caller wants to report a lost credit card, change their mailing address or file a billing dispute, and the system doesn’t offer that task, the call will go to live customer service every time. Users who navigate through multiple menus before
discovering that the option is not available become frustrated, and the company may pay for tens-of-thousands of calls that could be automated.
The traditional methodology for identifying why callers are requesting live agents is to examine the contact center disposition reports. But those reports don’t always tell the whole story. For example, a caller may have zeroed out to request a change of his mailing address, but then also asks for his balance. Upon completion of the interaction, a customer service agent will typically disposition the call for only one task. If the agent dispositions the call as a balance request, that’s not entirely correct. So to fully understand what tasks are going to the floor, you need to listen to live or analyze recorded calls – a time consuming and costly proposition. A more effective option is choose an IVR system that allows you to insert a customer service transfer menu in your automated IVR that prompts callers for more information when they request an agent.
The transfer menu can offer up to five options that you suspect are the main reasons callers request customer service agents, as well as a default choice of “something else.” When callers select a specific option (i.e. billing, balances, etc.) you can send them to a skill group that specializes in that problem. More importantly, you are generating detailed IVR reports that confirm the specific tasks that are missing in the automated service. Most IVR application designers avoid this extra menu due to concerns that the additional step will inconvenience customers. But the caller is already dissatisfied, so the additional customer service menu is perceived as a benefit that they will receive
specialized help. It is recommended that this customer service transfer menu be highly
configurable so you can quickly add, delete and move menu choices if, in fact, your customers are choosing “something else.” It is also recommended that this menu be toggled on or off based upon where or how the caller was transferred to the contact center. The detailed reports generated from this exercise will help to quickly identify and
provide clear direction for your next IVR enhancement and indicate the ROI for the development of adding the task in your automated IVR. Customers Unaware of Task Failure Your IVR system will fail if callers don’t know they can do a certain task
in the automated system. They call the 800 customer-service number, identify and authenticate themselves, and then hit zero in the main menu because they think they can’t possibly complete their desired task in the automated system. Unless the customer service agent tells the caller that next time the task can be completed through the IVR,
the caller will simply zero out each and every time they call for that specific task. These are the callers you can easily contain in the IVR — if only they knew their desired information could be obtained or task could be completed without an agent. As part of the “to better direct your call” customer service menu, add choices for tasks that you suspect your callers do not know are available. For example, the transfer menu prompt might say: “To better direct your call, if your call is related to recent deposits, press one.”
If recent deposits are available in the automated IVR, these are callers you can save immediately. Your customizable customer service menu should include choice selected prompts and submenus you can configure so callers pressing one will hear: “Did you know you can access all of your recent deposit information in our automated
system? If that’s not what you want, press one to speak to a customer
service representative. Please stay on the line.” Again, this requires a flexible and dynamic customer service transfer menu. But it increases customer satisfaction while also increasing IVR utilization. Users get the information they need and you prevent
low-cost calls from becoming more expensive ones.

4. Customer Trust Failure

Sometimes customers know the information they need is available through the IVR system, but they don’t trust it. They simply want to confirm it with a live agent. Perhaps a caller has just made a transfer online and wants to confirm the new balance. He doesn’t know or believe that the IVR system knows that the transfer was made. So the customer hits zero. He may be satisfied with the information he receives from the customer service agent. However, that call costs the company more than necessary, and the caller could have received the same information more efficiently by going through the IVR system. For example, if the caller has selected an option “For calls related to your balance” the IVR prompt may say: “Did you know our automated service has the most current and updated information about deposits and transfers? To get your current balance, press one; or to continue to hold for the next available representative, please stay on the line.” Thus, callers learn that the information they’ll get from a customer
service agent is the same information they’ll get from the IVR system.

5. Bonus Failure

Not Monitoring and Continually Improving the IVR System for Better Utilization
If your new IVR system is not achieving 80-85% utilization and you’re not continually monitoring the system and tuning it for better utilization, you have an IVR failure on your hands. There’s no reason to settle for less than optimum performance when incremental improvements in automation can save your company millions of dollars – even if you lack the expertise in house. Managed IVR services in the cloud can offer additional operational and capital expenditure savings over traditional IVR systems. Not only are you automating customer service calls, but you are moving the basic operation and maintenance of the system off premises. You are letting the experts handle the system and because they are experts, they can also help you fine-tune the system for optimum IVR utilization.



The processes used to identify and authenticate a caller depend on the vertical (financial services versus health care, for example), the company’s goals and the sensitivity of information being exchanged. However, it’s possible to make these steps easier for the caller and the IVR system. Look for an IVR that separates the identification and authentication processes and makes the difficulty of the processes reflect the sensitivity of the information provided by the IVR.


Limit your IVR system menu to no more than five options. If you have additional choices,
categorize them under the five options and organize them into submenus.


This problem seems easy enough to solve, right? You simply find out what tasks are being sent to the floor and add them to the automated IVR application. Not so fast.
Identifying these tasks can be costly, time consuming and very misleading.


A customer service transfer menu can help prevent IVR system failures related
to customers not knowing a task is available in the system.



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