Guest Blogger Bassam Salem: 5 IVR Mistakes That Can Damage a Brand

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
In today's environment, where brand loyalty is becoming an endangered species and every company foible can be "outed" online, a bad IVR experience can be especially damaging.

I've just had one of those maddening IVR experiences that consumers love to hate. I called a local Internet service provider and got caught in IVR purgatory when the system kept asking me for an account number that I didn't have. By the time
I gave up -- dozens of unproductive buttons later -- I was ready to launch an campaign to let the world know not to do business with the cable company.

In today's environment, where brand loyalty is becoming an endangered species and every company foible can be "outed" online, a bad IVR experience can be especially damaging. Dissatisfied customers can broadcast their grievances to millions of people in a nanosecond with a well-placed tweet or blog post. The impact can be devastating.According to a recent American Express study, 91 percent of Americans consider the level of customer service important when deciding to do business with a company; 52 percent are likely never to do business with a company again after a poor experience; and 48 percent report always or often using an online posting or blog to get others' opinions about a company's customer service reputation. Consumers also tend to put more weight on negative reviews than positive ones, making it particularly difficult to recover from online criticism.

Given that the IVR plays a central role in customer service delivery, good menu and navigation design are becoming increasingly important in managing brand image. The topic of IVR best practices can fill a book (and has), but here are five mistakes that can be particularly frustrating to consumers and therefore detrimental to customer relationships.

1. Trapping customers in the IVR. Not giving customers the option to reach an agent when necessary -- or requiring a seemingly endless series of menu choices before giving them agent access -- wastes their time and causes a lot of anger. (Exhibit A: my experience with the cable company mentioned above.) You need to balance your desire to automate as many customer interactions as possible with the reality that many customers want or need a live agent for some inquiries.

2. Repeatedly asking for the same information. Frequently, for example, an IVR will ask for an account number when the caller enters the system but will fail to share the information with the agent because of lack of integration. The agent must then ask for the information again, suggesting a lack of respect for the customer's time.

3. Trying to automate processes that are too complex. We know of one inbound sales call center that went to a lot of trouble to put product inventory for their most popular items on their IVR system but discovered that customers were overwhelmed by too many products and required IVR choices. Without an agent to help, callers abandoned the effort and sales slackened. Not everything lends itself to IVR.

4. Failing to keep the IVR menu current. During the holiday season, for example, adding a menu option that says "If you're calling about your Christmas order, press 1" can provide better customer service than an IVR-as-usual strategy. Similarly, changing the IVR to provide ready information about crisis situations like power outages, delayed shipments, or interruptions to an online gaming service can go a long way toward averting customer irritation.

5. Neglecting to coordinate with social media, chat, and email. These other channels are good barometers of customer concerns that can help support IVR update efforts. If there's a product defect or a service interruption, channels like Twitter or Facebook might be the first place you will hear about it, giving you a jump on customers' day-to-day information needs.

Bottom line? Stop thinking of your interactive voice system as a tool to deflect live-agent call handling and instead put yourself in the customer's shoes. Figure out what you would want automated, and design your IVR accordingly. It's an extension of your brand, and mistakes can undermine all the other efforts your company makes to treat customers right.

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About the Author: Bassam Salem is senior vice president of professional services for, a provider of cloud-based contact center software and agent optimization solutions.