Friday, July 27, 2007

IVR Doesn’t Spell Frustration

In the online Montreal Gazette feature on “Your call is important to us”, Roberto Rocha has an interesting interview with Mark Goldberg, a telecom consultant. Goldberg is probably representing the average telecom executive’s view in the following:

The real challenges for the communication industry are the same of almost the entire inbound call centre industry. People aren’t necessarily having a worse experience with telecoms. They just have more reason to call the telecom than any other type of utility.

Because of the volume of calls, it’s incumbent on the service provider to handle those calls as cost effectively as possible. That’s where I think people run into the greatest frustration. Cost effective is not a compatible characteristic with down home friendly service.

I understand one of major coffee shop chains in Canada has trained employees to not be friendly. They smile and everything but it’s not efficient to get into a friendly conversation in a fast food coffee shop. That same principle applies to mass volume call centres.

In order to handle calls more quickly, telecoms have stuck those automated voice systems before the human agents. And that’s as unfriendly as it can get. It’s a huge frustration level, especially when you have to wait while hearing that your call is important to them. If you felt my call was really important, you’d have enough people to handle my call.

But what the company is attempting to do is lower their cost structure. The alternatives are to pass on the cost to consumers or ship all service overseas, which can result in a deterioration of service.

In summary, we’re no worse than anyone else and the only alternatives are less satisfactory.

The “E Source 2007 Review of North American Electric and Gas Company IVRs” would certainly confirm that average view. They assessed the IVR systems of 103 U.S. and Canadian utilities. They found that utility customers consistently report lower levels of satisfaction when they use an IVR compared to talking directly with a phone agent, dealing in person with an agent, or even interacting with their utility at the utility web site.

The point is that not all IVR systems are created equal. Modern technology can ensure that IVR is able to respond intelligently to clients. That’s what the report found for the highest rated companies such as Cleco Power, Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy (Florida), Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and Omaha Public Power District.

Sandy Goodwin, director of the E Source Utility Customer Care Service, points the way. “Highly rated IVRs are providing a convenient way for customers to interact with their utility, but they are also helping the utility to reduce operating expenses. Increasingly, good IVRs are key to the success of a utility’s call center. The best systems highlighted by our review offered the functions that customers wanted and made those functions easy to find and to use.”

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