The softer side of IVR: a warmer voice cuts costs

Spoken | August 9, 2016

Rockwell family dinner Moving from “cold” to “homey” IVR voice improved customer satisfaction 7%

What’s in a voice? Quite a bit, according to a recent article on the Wall Street Journal. While many customers rail against IVRs, time and again, studies show is that in the end what customers want is for their issues to be solved quickly, efficiently and competently. And if the IVR voice is annoying, callers will opt out and wait even longer in the call queue, increasing frustration and descreasing satisfaction.

So what is the key to IVR efficiency? At least part of it is the nature of the IVR voice, as Aflac recently discovered. With respect to the voice on Aflac’s IVR, Virgil Miller, Aflac VP of Client Services, reported, “Company officials think that led some callers to opt to go straight to a customer service rep. Our brand is warm and conversational, but the voice was cold and inconsistent.”

Aflac worked with GM Voices, Inc. to audition dozens of voice actors before settling on one with a warm Midwestern accent. The goal was to provide a voice that conveyed calm and reassurance, two things callers to an insurance line would want.

The results speak for themselves:

Aflac is expecting to take 11.5 million calls this year, up from 11 million last year, but this year it has 3% fewer customer-service reps. Mr. Miller says the company believes that’s partly because the better voice means fewer customers are opting to speak with a live agent.

In addition to the cost savings, callers reported increased satisfaction with their experiences as well:

The company surveyed about 200 callers in April, before the change, and in August. It found that overall customer satisfaction had risen about 7% with the new voice. In total, the project cost more than $8,000, said Mr. Miller.

It comes down to this, again and again: forget the not-so-wise common wisdom that callers hate IVRs. It’s just not true. Some callers hate some IVRs. And we all hate badly designed IVRs that don’t keep the customer experience at top of mind. Reaching a real human being isn’t the pot of gold if the human being isn’t well trained or doesn’t have the caller information that the IVR might have easily collected. Couple that with recent Forrester studies that have shown that callers actually prefer IVR interactions for routine tasks, and there is no getting around it: if callers are complaining about your IVR, the culprit is your IVR’s design, not IVRs in general.

Keep up to date with IVR best practices and design an interaction with the customer experience in mind, and your callers will report a positive experience. As TMCNet’s Tracey Schelmetic concluded, “The truth of the matter is, studies have shown that most people don’t mind dealing with an IVR, as long as it’s well designed and ultimately helps them answer their question, complete their task or solve their problem, which many nowadays do.”

IVR interactions cost from five to seven cents, versus three to nine dollars for a human interaction. However, as Aflac has shown, it’s possible to provide the best of both worlds: IVR for efficiency and human agents when necessary.

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