Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Empathize with the User of Your Interactive Voice Response System

It can be maddening to interact with a poorly designed interactive voice response system. Even when the script is perfect, there are times when callers may feel stuck and alienated. The trick is to put yourself in the caller’s shoes. How often do you use your own interactive voice response solution, after all? Probably never—but if you can empathize with your callers, you’re on your way to developing a much more user-friendly interactive voice response system. 

A recent TMCnet article about interactive voice response for smartphones offers some interesting statistics about where and when users feel comfortable with voice response system solutions. Users felt comfortable using a voice response system:

…while shopping or running errands (88 percent), waiting at appointments (80 percent), walking between places (78 percent) or visiting friends (68 percent). Survey respondents also said they would feel comfortable using voice to perform tasks on their smartphones while walking (93 percent), exercising (92 percent), and shopping or running errands (87 percent), according to the study.

On the other hand, some users felt awkward using interactive voice technology with a smartphone when in a restaurant, with only 71 percent of respondents feeling comfortable. 

These statistics show how important it is to empathize with callers and their surroundings. Sometimes callers will prefer touchtone to using an interactive voice response solution. Users need to know they have the option of switching back and forth. So when the time comes to dictate personal information, like an account number or address, have your interactive voice response system remind callers that they can use touchtone OR speech to communicate with the system. 

A few other tips for empathizing with callers:

• For self-service interactive voice response transactions, make it clear that an agent is available at any time, and give clear instructions on how to reach one. I have seen many companies discourage callers from zeroing out to save on agent costs, but many callers end up feeling alienated and frustrated if they are refused agent service.

• If your interactive voice response solution plays music while callers are on hold, be very careful selecting what is played (I generally discourage the use of hold music, in part because it can be very difficult to select something which will appeal to everyone). Classic rock will not fit a life insurance company, and Beethoven may not work for a cellular services provider targeting a young demographic. Think about how irritating it would be to have to listen to a song you can’t stand!

• Avoid long-winded error messages. “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you, can you please repeat that?” may sound polite, and would be appropriate coming from an agent—but from an interactive voice response system repeating it over and over, it can be infuriating and time-consuming. The fact is, no matter how advanced the design and script of your interactive voice response system, sometimes it may not be able to understand callers—if they happen to walk by a deafening construction zone, for instance. So keep error messages short and forward callers to an agent if they fail to make themselves understood after multiple tries. 

There are many other ways to develop a user-friendly interactive voice response solution. Try out your own voice response system to see where callers may get frustrated. By putting yourself in the caller’s shoes, you’ll be in a great position to boost the effectiveness of your interactive voice response system solution.