Friday, December 9, 2011

Press 1 for blah, Press 2 for blah, Press 3 for are you annoyed yet?

I am pretty sure that almost anyone who has ever called customer service for any company/organization has dealt with some form of a voice response system. Yesterday, I called a government office and spent about 5 minutes pressing buttons, listening to very long messages to tell me to go to the website and then pressing more buttons. The first time I dialed the number, I went through this maze only to get lost and then having to hang up and do it all over again. errhhhhh@@@!!!

Thankfully, my hold time was not very long and when I did speak with the service representative, she was polite and helpful. I asked her about the "maze" effect and she laughed and told me that everyone complains about it and there aren't any shortcuts to get to a service representative.

After this experience, I began to recall some other annoying habits call centers use. Here are my list of the things that irk me the most about these systems:

  • I can not stand speaking to a robot. 9 out of 10 times she gets it wrong anyway so can't I just dial the account number or press the button to get to the right person? 
  • After option 3, you have lost me. I will probably press 1.
  • Don't try to sell me something ... I am not interested
  • Don't try to tell me to go online ... duh .... I called you so why do I want to go online?
  • Don't not tell me how long the hold time is. If I were standing in line at the store or bank, I could make a decision to stay in line based on how the long line is.

Given this,  why has today's call center world relied on IVRs and what is the actual benefit? 

Based on my professional experience, there are three key reasons:

  • not every service representative has all the information or is specialized in a topic 
  • marketing pressures to drive revenue in the call center lead to selling messages
  • cost pressures to move volume to the web lead to messages about online capabilities

While I can understand the first reason, I think this can be solved by arming the frontline with as many tools as possible and if they can not address the question, then a warm dial transfer is acceptable. 

The other two reasons are over played and I believe we need to return to the simplicity of service. Just service the customer and stop messaging! When I stand  in a physical line , I do not have to see or listen to those messages. I just wait my turn. I believe that is all most customers want to do and therefore my advice to any company looking to invest on one of these super, duper IVRs is, don't do it! Save your money, invest it in something more interesting and let customers get to your frontline as fast as possible. 

If you have any interesting stories or additional insights on this topic, I encourage you to comment or email me at

press 1 to Have a great weekend!

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