customerphonecallbusinessImage by [Duncan]

Whether you love it or hate it, technology is a huge part of customer service. Discover how ‘speechless’ technology is making life easier for customers.

Automated voices are answering thousands of customer queries each day. Anything from “how much was my last bill?” to “what are your opening times?” can be answered by an automated agent. This kind of technology certainly seems simpler, but how can it actually enhance the customer experience?

Automated Voices

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) may not technically be ‘speechless’ but there is still no face behind the voice. The machine does not ‘speak’ to customers, instead it simply plays pre-recorded messages in response to a customer’s query to deal with it fast and fully.

Unsurprisingly, speaking to a ‘robot’ wasn’t particularly popular with customers at first, but recently its popularity has risen quite dramatically. It used be the case that when given the choice between pressing ‘1’ to find out your balance or ‘2’ to speak to an agent, many customers would select the latter without thinking – even if all they wanted to do was check their balance!

But seeing as though around 50% of customer service agents’ speech is scripted anyway – is IVR really that different? For simple queries, it seems not.

Why Businesses Love IVR

From a business point of view, IVR makes perfect sense. It is much cheaper than employing ‘real’ customer service agents and far more efficient.

Admittedly, IVR is not the answer to all problems and some customer queries need a real person, either because it is a complicated problem or a delicate one. The nuances of customers relations are somewhat lost on IVR, but what it can do very well is deal with run-of-the-mill enquiries at great speed.

Studies have shown that 37% of all contact centre transactions are routine enquiries which don’t require a real customer service agent being on the other end of the phone. Filtering these calls through an IVR menu can greatly reduce queues and the workload of staff.

Meet ‘Julie’, One of The Busiest Customer Service Agents in the World

If you’ve travelled by train in America, you may have spoken to ‘Julie’ before your journey. ‘Julie’ manages to answer a staggering 5 million calls a year for Amtrak, the US national rail company.

All this is possible because ‘Julie’ is an automated voice response system, whose Bostonian accent is familiar to America’s railway commuters and holidaymakers. She is able to offer arrival and departure information and take online bookings. Not only is this service quick and easy for customers, but it saves the business huge sums of money.

Why Most Customers Prefer IVR – without even knowing it

After a shaky start where many customers shunned IVR technology, it seems now that the tables have turned. Recent studies have shown that customers actively avoid speaking to an agent, preferring IVR as it enables them to solve a problem quickly and easily.

According to Convergys, 55% of consumers actually prefer automated self-service and research by JD Power & Associates has found that IVR handles 27% of all customer service calls.

This sudden surge in enthusiasm for automated agents might be due to technological and cultural changes. IVR technology has improved significantly, as at the beginning it could be very frustrating. And the easier it has become, the more attractive it seems as an alternative to waiting in a queue to speak to a real agent.

The cultural factor is also an important one. We have simply got used to using technology in everyday life, so the prospect of calling an automated agent is not daunting or irritating, simply part of life.

IVR is also popular because it solves the huge problem of call centre queues. Many customers would site long queues as one of the worst things about call centres and IVR solves this problem. In fact a recent survey has shown that one in three customers would wait no longer than two or three minutes in a queue – so businesses that provide IVR technology will not only keep customers happy but reduce the risk of losing custom.

Real People vs. Machines

To compete in a modern climate, businesses should offer access to both IVR and customer service agents as they both play an important, yet very different role in customer relations. Customer service agents should be used for complex or sensitive problems and to provide a voice for a company. Businesses that rely solely on IVR could seem faceless and cold.

Live call centres also provide an important sales opportunity, which would be impossible through IVR. Paul Towers from Nationwide told the Guardian that a customer rang to get a new credit card, as their dog had chewed up the previous one into scrunched-up plastic mess. However, the customer service agent managed to sell them pet insurance as well! As wonderful as the automated ‘Julie’ is, I don’t think she’d have been able to make an inspired sale like this.

The key to success in customer service is to realise which interactions need real agents and which would be quicker and cheaper without. The simplicity of speechless service can really work wonders, as long as it is used effectively.

What do you think about technology in customer service? Do you prefer IVR, or speaking a real agent? Share your thoughts below.