Automatic Shouldn’t Be Robotic

We’ve all experienced them.  And, done well, I happen to be a big fan.  The automated inbound/outbound IVR.  You know.  The machine voice that interacts with you on the customer service line in lieu of a live agent.

They started out as the “Press 1 for Sales; 2 for service” application.  And many still survive in this format.  Then, they evolved to “Press or Say 1…”  And, when these were the only alternatives, I wasn’t such a fan.  Not because of the technology per se, but because of how it was abused.  Or more to the point, how I was abused while interacting with it.  Hence the expression “IVR Jail”.  I could get in.  But, there’s no way Dr. Evil IVR programmer was letting me out.  If they could keep me in the IVR until I disconnected in frustration, the company just saved about $20 in agent call handling costs.  And in general, that was the ultimate motivation; to save the company money through call deflection.

But today, these technologies include speech recognition and sophisticated voice activated response that can create a real win-win.  A positive experience for those preferring self service, like me.  And a cost reduction for the company.  How about that!

So, when I received an appointment reminder from my son’s doctor yesterday via an outbound IVR, I couldn’t understand how Robot from Lost In Space got my number and for what reason was he calling.

One thing I did know for sure was that my local hospital (area code 484) outsourced this to some third party IVR or contact center (the call came from area code 303).

So, I wonder.  Who made the decision to automate this customer touch point?  What were the decision criteria to outsource it?  Was it a pure financial decision?  Did anyone consider the impact on the customer experience?  

My friend Chris Reaburn blogged recently about the customer invoice as a touch point by which there is opportunity to enhance the customer experience.  Chris has some great ideas.  What organizations need to do first, however, is do the basics right.

With outstanding examples of elegantly crafted voice response systems like Julie from Amtrak and Bank of America’s smooth talking IVR gent, there are plenty of examples by which to model this channel.

Make a few calls and listen, Doc.


  1. Interesting stuff, and totally agreed on the impacts to the customer experience.

    From a technology perspective, I'm not sure if it's so much an IVR versus a poorly configured Outbound Dialer (sorry, will put my geek hat away) I had a similar experience recently with an imaging clinic calling to remind me of a pending CT Scan: call delivered via outbound dialer (answering machine detection clearly not programmed well) with an IVR message (static and low-volume, difficult to hear) and the option to transfer to a live agent disconnected the call.

    Thankfully, my experience was far better at said appointment in comparison with the process to schedule and remind. Not only do I think the customer experience is overlooked in the outbound model, more frustrating still is there is no decent model for feedback to the relevant stakeholders: Operations, IT / Telecom, etc.

    Have you experienced the advent of text message reminders yet? Our vet and dentist both offer this, and I really prefer this options and think it's pretty cool as I'm one of those who rarely answers a call not in my address book.

  2. If I had a dime for every time that I inwardly groan when I get an automated voice attendant, my retirement fund would be all set.

    I received a call from my financial advisor yesterday to remind me of my upcoming fund review appointment and it occurred to me how unique that call was. I, sadly, have now gotten used to the robots calling me.

    As you ask, where did we as consumers somehow permit the level of service to be so depersonalized so as to have automated robots calling us. I know that there are financial reasons in most businesses for doing so. However, my suggestion would be to hire someone on a part time basis to make those reminder calls. They keep the human connection intact and valued.

  3. What an interesting article. I have a great time reading this post. I will have to come back hear again.

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