Calling All IVRs

Yes.  All the buzz for the past couple of years in customer service has been focused on social.  And by that, many are still defining social customer service as answering inquiries on Facebook and Twitter, but that’s a topic for an upcoming post.

The point here is that the dominant channel of both service demand and supply is still voice.  But, while it seems like this channel is ripe for vast improvements in the customer experience and in efficiency, efforts to improve it have seem to become passe.  So, I’m declaring my self Mr Boring in a quest to solve this phenomenon.

I spent last year responding to any and all customer surveys that came my way.  I wanted to see what companies really did with my feedback.  And by in large, the answer was nothing much.  At least from the customer’s line of sight.

So now this year I’m on to IVRs and voice response self service.  I’m still really bullish on the potential of this technology.  So I want to call a bunch and peek under the hood. But I need your help.

If you have examples of companies that you think provide a really awesome (or really poor) voice response self service, can you do me a favor and shoot me the name of the company down in the comments?  In return, I’ll come back with hopefully some interesting, actionable findings.

Happy dialing!


  1. Hi Barry,

    Good call!

    First company that comes to mind is American Express. I know they had some very sophisticated routing capabilities based on Customer recognition. At the same time they, like most who try to use this technology in a useful manner, had difficulty finding the right balance between increasing Customer effort and increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the call. But at least they try to continuously improve.

    I also think you should try and seek a company who uses voice recognition only in the IVR. The advantage is that a Customer just needs to ask his question, the down-side that the Customer is either not prepared to do so, and more so, technology is not yet perfect..

    And, I think you should not only evaluate on the IVR experience, but on the end-to-end experience.. I wrote about this back in 2009. Still think it makes sense:

    I look forward to reading your findings. If I can be of any help, you know where to find me :)


  2. Hi Barry

    You deserve a medal for persevering with all those customer surveys – I agree most are poorly designed, and almost all are (seemingly) ignored.

    That's a shame, because it's two customer loyalty opportunities missed: the first to show that one cares that the customer is completely satisfied and understand what's important to the customer by only asking brief and relevant questions; the second by responding swiftly to any issues raised.

    However before you give up on them completely may I share my story briefly? I almost gave up on them too when I was running a large service department, but then found a way of getting such good results that I left my job to set up a company selling a software tool to help others achieve the same results.

    The key rules are:

    1. Make it very easy for the customer to give feedback, whether solicited or unsolicited. That means any surveys need to be one page and less than 30 seconds to complete. And also make it clear that the feedback will be welcomed (so that they don't feel awkward or reluctant to give it).

    2. Make sure the feedback is actioned swiftly, that the customer is informed of the outcome, and that the underlying cause is fixed.

    3. Show the feedback to everyone in the company. That way everyone stays in touch with how customers feel, and everyone can learn how to do a better job for them. Very often this is more important for the back office people than the so-called 'front line' people.

    I guess that, as with IVR systems, it's not the tool that's the arbiter of success so much as the way it's used, but at CustomerSure we at least have a tool that makes it a little easier to measure and manage customer satisfaction in a customer-friendly way.

    Good luck with this year's project!

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  6. That many people crying out You think that anyone who speaks

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  8. I think the important message, right?

  9. I received outstanding (and astonishing) customer service from Meelec during 2011. I plan to tell the story on my own blog in the next few days.

  10. I used to work for a telecoms firm – never mind IVR, and one thing that was then and still is increasing in popularity is speech recognition as a tool for customer service. In my opinion this is flawed since speech recognition is very hard to tune to understand regional accents so for example someone with a heavy geordie accent wont be understood

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  14. Agreed.

  15. Customer service… Hhmmmm…
    I worked in the customer service field, I always did my best to service my customers as best I could after I sold them my "business" [ as not to name company ] becuase I wanted them to send more customers my way. But I even dreed calling these companies support staff [ for employees ] becuase all I ever got was the run arounds.
    sadly enough, some companies believe that once they have you on the hook, where else can you go……

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  17. From Chris Bassoo

    Great Blog!
    Congrats on being Blog of Note
    Sometimes i think that Customer Service is a lost art form
    Perhaps they should teach a course in Colleges and Universities (or maybe they do?)

    Thanks for such a great forum
    Christopher Bassoo, Canada

  18. Greeting from Malaysia =)

  19. Barry, I just happened to click on Blogs of Note and found your post to be very….thought provoking. As someone that works in the Customer Service industry, I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard "that stupid computer didn't listen to what I wanted, can you do it for me?!" So, here is my suggestion for a company's IVR that you can go thru. Citi, or any of their private labels (i.e. home depot, radio shack, the child's place, etc.) I wish you luck and I'll be following your posts to see how it works out.

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  21. Thanks for all the contribtions! and…uh…whatever these other comments are…hey, rock on.

  22. thanks for the referal to Amex, Wim. Bank of America's speech rec is also intuitive in terms of transaction-type of inquiries. I'll check it out.

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  28. I would say 3 the phone provider I have had large arguments with their system as it's been so crap. All I wanted to do is find out when my contract ended but no I for some reason ended up having a mild mental break down and started shouting at the thing telling it wasn't real and that it's existence was worthless till I finally got through to a person. I will admit it wasn't the best way to spend and afternoon.

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  29. Actually, one company that I found that had excellent e-mail responses was a company called ZAGG. They specialize in device protection such as screen protectors. I sent them back an old screen protector for a replacement, and they got right back to me thanking me for sending it back to them in a timely manner. This isn't exactly what you are looking for, but just found it interesting!


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  35. Hey, great post. I recently resigned from a position with Apple iOS technical support at a call center. I hold no grudges about the job, but for the purposes of your research, definitely give those guys a call for, in my opinion, an example of a poor IVR system.

    The hardest part about troubleshooting Apple's devices is the customers (Typical issues are user related anyway!). Customers are not happy having to call in and it only added to their frustration level when the IVR was subpar for a company such as Apple.

    Once again, great post. Feel free to stop by my blog for sports related talk!

  36. For a poor IVR system, call PNC Mortgage. The company is decent but I always end up screaming into the phone that I want a customer service representative because the computer can never seem to get me where I want to go. By the way, usually when I scream that I want a customer service representative into the receiver, I am typically disconnected after a curt voice announces 'thank you for your call'. Ha – annoying ad nauseum.

  37. Check out the CVS Caremark voice response system for ordering long term prescriptions by mail using the phone and voice response. Their system is pretty good and almost understand what I'm saying, probably because it is structured to give you choices that would be difficult for the machine to confuse. It is easy to use, easy to understand, and doesn't waste too much of your time (certainly compared to driving to the drug store.)

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  41. Hi Barry

    like many others I found this post to be absolutely fascinating. I find the discussion of how we should be using automated technology to be an extremely interesting one. I myself have experienced this tedious circumstance on many occasion when contacting my bank in particular. The frustrating routine of being transferred from department to department by various robots has become an integral part of our society, and companies don't seem to be realising that the human touch is what people crave the most, in my opinion when going about their business.

    I didn't come across your blog by accident. I sought it out as I am interested in this particular topic and thought that you might be interested in joining in the discussion on my blog.

    You may not be aware yet, but there is a new phenomenon sweeping parts of the web. It is very ambiguous and mysterious, but the messages that have been transmitted are very interesting and it is creating lots of excitement on the web and in certain circles of society.

    It's ambiguity is where my blog comes in. It is a space where the questions and theories of this phenomenon can be discussed and scrutinised, and where those excited by this new viral campaign can try and solve the mystery of what it is, and whether it is really as relevant and interesting as it promises to be. It is still not known whether it is a political party, a philosophical idea or even a movie campaign!

    The reason I thought you and your readers might be interested is that this phenomena has so far used the social media as well as a website to grab attention, and I think the question of how twitter and blogger, for example, should be used is relevant here. Are these sites for our personal enjoyment only, or should we engage ourselves fully with the defining tools of our generation and accept anything that comes our way through the portal of social media?

    No one really wants to see insurance adverts on their twitter feed, but do we really want to put limitations on the internet if it means restricting important and interesting ideas?

    Anyway I enjoyed reading your blog and I hope you and any of your readers who are interested will continue this discussion on my blog, and also join the discussion of the most interesting viral marketing campaign to hit the web for years.

    Thanks :)

  42. 1-888-BESTBUY. Or any Best Buy number. Dealing with Best Buy over the past month has been a nightmare, from missing packages and botched returns to a allure to refund a cancelled purchase. When I call the 1-888 number I'm rerouted for a few minutes before speaking to a customer service rep who says either go to the store or go online. When I go to the store, they say they can't help. When I go online, I get an error message stating the order management system is down. Perhaps this is less an IVR issue and more a giant company doesn't give a darn issue. Either way, I've spent over 3 hours on the phone with them since January 1, and I've gotten no answers. It's all empty promises and passing the buck.

  43. You are great!Hope everybody a nice new year!

  44. What a cool idea! I don't know offhand which companies do well, but your idea is definitely interesting. Good luck with it. :-)

  45. what the hells goin on here i think all comments are spammed hahaha ..
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  50. Example of bad customer service. I was trying to contact my local bofa branch. My calls were ringing through to the 800 customer service. After trying to get through several times I talked to the 800 number a couple of times and still tried to unsuccessfully get through to the branch. I asked to talk to a manager at the 800#. He said he could not and would not send a message to the branch to contact me.

    There was a time before that I tried to get a hold of a specific department, but didn't know the name of department. I finally wrote a letter to every address I could find explaining my situation. I finally got a call back from someone in the correct department. I might still have that letter some where.

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  56. why r u said it is spam.can i know from you which things is getting spam?

  57. in Malaysia. I think the Public Bank customer service is fast and good. 2 times i had called them about my VIsa thingy..and they all are settled on the same day at the exact moment without the irritating voice from them. =)

  58. AT&T.; Worst. voice response system. ever.

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  68. Try calling NHIC's (Medicare carrier in the northeastern United States) IVR on a weekend and you'll hear that every patient you inquire on is ineligible.

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  78. The only company I know that has 'Fanatical Support' is . I've never been a client of this company but it's nice to know they have it.

  79. AT&T; is horrible. Even if I say "I want to talk to a real person" i have to go through a few more menus. I think if a company decides to do full IVR, the Zero key should still be an option to fast forward you to a real person. (Zero does not work for ATT's options). All IVR does is make people mad and in a bad mood when they finally get to talk to a real person.

  80. Hi,

    Love the blog. I don't know about the IVR thing for the following companies, but I have had nothing but great customer services from Zappos, Victoria's Secret, and Gilt Group. Sure, it's all fashion related. But the service each of them provide is courteous, prompt, and easy. I can purchase from any of them without any worries whatsoever. However, on a less awesome note, my recent experiences with DreamHot was down the tubes.

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