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“Updating Our Mantra”

Over the 17 years of our annual Energy Utility IVR Benchmark Report, delivering IVR Workshops, and conducting first-person IVR Usability Testing, we review and, from time-to-time, update our evaluation principles and what we teach to IVR management teams.  


For the Benchmark, this has led us to update both the expected Functionality (i.e., available options), a system’s Usability (i.e., ‘user friendliness’ - we actually rate more than 75 elements), and the evolving importance of system aesthetics (how messages and menus are delivered to callers), as both technology advances and callers’ expectations evolve.


When it comes to the proven characteristics of high-performing IVR menus and call flows - both in terms of operational efficiency and caller satisfaction/customer experience (CX) - it’s time for an update to our design ‘mantra.’ 


“Consistency” is being added to the list, for, in a menu-based system - as opposed to one that's natural language driven - menus should be:

  • Clear

  • Concise

  • Consistent

  • Mutually-exclusive

  • All inclusive


Menu wording, call flows, in fact the entire IVR experience needs to be consistent in the ear of your callers, especially to your repeat, ‘mental mapper’ callers, presenting stable menus over time.


Backed by user experience research, we recognize that, while callers like some measure of personalization (typically based on identifying them by the incoming phone number, offering an acknowledgment of some pending business, etc.), we also recognize that the attempt to ‘be like Amazon’ in terms of personalization can be both expensive and potentially onerous, especially if you don’t identify the caller from the outset.


Today, inconsistency - the antithesis of consistency - runs rampant in some IVRs. We have heard menus with options removed and, worse yet, with numbers skipped in the sequence (e.g., press 1 followed by press 3, because a specific caller is not eligible for the press 2 option).  Guess what?  Callers don’t always wait to hear the prompt number! Whatever they hear as the second option, they may press 2 even before the end of the option and likely get an error message if there’s no press 2 specifically “allowed” for them.


We’ve also heard overt, manual attempts to identify ‘ANI-No’ callers - those whose phone numbers were not recognized at the outset of the call - with the underlying intent to get callers into their credit and collections department, since lots of folks call about overdue bills.  What if they were calling on some other topic?  Or didn’t need to be identified to get their answer?  Self-service opportunities are lost, time-in-system is extended, and CX numbers drop…all in the name of ‘personalization.’


In our view, and from extensive user testing, consistency trumps customization.  That said, when a caller is recognized - ‘ANI Yes - asking one, single confirmatory question about whatever customer intelligence you have in hand is great! “We see that you have … (fill in reason).  Is that the reason for your call?”


So, when it comes to CX and system optimization, consistency is a virtue! 

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