SQM Group

IVR Self-Service Touchpoint

Best Practices for Resolving Interactions on the First Call

April 5, 2022 | 4min read

IVR Self-Service Touchpoint Overview

Most organizations say they have implemented the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) self-service touchpoint to allow customers to help themselves. However, the main reason why organizations implement the IVR self-service touchpoint and increase IVR functionality for handling calls is to reduce the number of calls to the more expensive call center touchpoint. Although this is a worthy practice, it should not be at the expense of making it difficult for customers to ‘zero out’ to an agent, nor should an organization add the functionality for complex call types that the call center touchpoint should handle.

For the IVR self-service touchpoint to successfully resolve an interaction, the first step is to determine the appropriate call types this touchpoint should handle. IVR self-service effectively handles a high volume of calls when the call types are low in complexity. However, if the call type is complex or relationship-based, the IVR self-service touchpoint is inappropriate.  

Currently, organizations use two IVR self-service operating practices. The dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) operating practice, otherwise known as touchtone, allows customers to use the phone keypad for entering the relevant information required for resolving their inquiry. The speech recognition operating practice will enable customers to speak on the phone to provide the information required to resolve their questions. Speech recognition IVR systems tend to be used in larger organizations due to the resources necessary to support them.

A new IVR self-service feature is the development of visual IVR. Visual IVR self-service is an infographic operating practice used in smartphones. Given that most customers have a smartphone and want to use self-service, the emergence of visual IVR will become a widespread operating practice. The smartphone user can visually view menu options. This way, the customer hears the traditional IVR voice menu options and can also see the menu options. Therefore, the visual IVR operating practice makes it easier for customers to choose the right menu options to resolve their inquiries or problems.

Visual IVR

Best Practices for the IVR Self-Service Touchpoint

For the IVR self-service touchpoint to successfully resolve an inquiry, it must be with the right call types, not necessarily all call types. Contact centers need to recognize that complex calls are better suited for the call center or email touchpoints. Callers will use IVR self-service if it is easy to use and they are successfully resolving their inquiries. The IVR self-service touchpoint needs to be designed and maintained for resolving low-complexity inquiries. Customers should be encouraged to use IVR self-service for low-complexity inquiries, educated on what call types are appropriate for this touchpoint and instructed on how to use it. Having an IVR self-service, or increasing its functionality to handle more call types, will not result in customer touchpoint containment. Organizations should strive to achieve an 80% IVR self-service touchpoint containment. It will take an effective design that recognizes the appropriate call types this touchpoint can handle. Otherwise, the organization will miss a considerable call deflection opportunity.

A typical customer complaint with using IVR self-service is unclear voice prompts, resulting in the customer not being able to understand how to navigate through the menu system. IVR self-service touchpoint scripts must be easy to understand, speak at a pace everybody can understand, use positive language, avoid organizational jargon, and use natural-sounding voice talent for the voice prompts. The IVR self-service scripts should be as one speaks in a normal conversation. Using plain language that the vast majority of customers can clearly understand is critical to the success of resolving an inquiry through the IVR self-service touchpoint.

One of the most significant areas of customer dissatisfaction when using the IVR self-service touchpoint is not being able to zero out to reach a call center agent. The primary purpose of the IVR self-service touchpoint is for customers to be able to resolve routine low-complexity call types. When a high percentage of customers zero out for low-complexity calls, there is a fundamental problem with the design or execution of the IVR self-service touchpoint.

The best practice for the IVR self-service touchpoint is to give customers the zero-out option to speak with an agent at any time with a simple touch of the star (*) or a zero button. Let callers know about the star or zero-out options to reach an agent at the start of the call. When voice recognition is used, a customer should be able to reach an agent during the call just by asking, using simple words such as, “I want to speak to a rep.” Many organizations allow customers to zero out at any time during the call, but they do not inform customers about this option or only make the option available at the second or third menu levels. SQM does not consider hiding or burying the zero-out option a best practice because it is not a customer-centric practice. Many organizations assume that if they make it difficult for customers to reach an agent, they will continue using IVR self-service. SQM’s experience is that if the IVR is easy to use, customers will use it. Again, not being able to zero out is one of the most significant areas of customer dissatisfaction when using the IVR self-service touchpoint.

One of the biggest areas of caller dissatisfaction is too many menu layers and choices. It can be difficult for customers to remember the menu choices presented to them in many cases. There is an ongoing debate on how many menu layers or options within each layer an IVR self-service touchpoint should use. SQM considers the IVR self-service menu design of a 2-by-4 menu structure to be a best practice. This means that the IVR self-service structure is two menu layers, and within each menu layer, there are only four choices offered to a caller. Many callers will zero out if there are too many IVR menu layers or menu choices. It is typical for an IVR self-service menu to have 30 or more options, with many of those choices seldom being used. The most popular menu choices should be the first choices provided to a caller. In addition, callers should be able to barge through the menu, so they do not have to listen to all the menu options.

An operating practice that has gained high prominence is ‘natural language understanding’ (NLU). The main benefit of NLU is that this technology can eliminate or reduce the caller’s need to use an IVR touchtone menu. The NLU practice prompts the caller to provide an open-ended response instead of offering the caller specific menu options. Using NLU can expand the number of menu options (100 plus) available to a customer. Also, NLU allows the customer to use natural language with an open dialog to resolve their inquiry. The NLU practice, in many cases, has been more successful than the traditional touchtone IVR self-service operating practice for touchpoint containment. The NLU practice can eliminate the need to go through multiple menu layers and options by using words that are natural to customers.

The majority of organizations offer the self-service option in the first menu layer. Most organizations start the IVR self-service process by asking the customer to authenticate using personal information, such as their phone number or account number, before proceeding with the self-service process for resolving their inquiry.

IVR Authentication

Most IVR systems use female voice talent to navigate a customer through the process because many customers find it friendlier. However, some industries, such as manufacturing, tend to use a male voice for the IVR touchpoint. Choose the voice talent based on an understanding of the target customer demographic and use professional voice talent to assist customers in using the IVR touchpoint. The voice talent should greet customers warmly, have cheerful voice tones for prompting customers through the menu, and be empathetic when a customer is having difficulty using the IVR self-service touchpoint.

The IVR self-service design must have a prompt for action after the menu option. In other words, the IVR self-service system needs to present the customer with the menu option first before prompting them for an action (e.g., “for billing, press 1”). The main advantage of this IVR navigation practice is that it is easier for customers to remember the action required, and if they remember the action, they do not have to go through the menu process again.

Given that using the IVR technology has a negative connotation for some customers, the menu choices can be used to highlight the benefits of using the IVR self-service touchpoint for resolving their interactions. For example, typically, the IVR menu option communicates, “For telephone payment, press 1” the IVR menu option can say, “For the fastest and easiest way to pay your telephone bill, press 1”. This approach will get more customers wanting to use the IVR self-service touchpoint. In addition, let callers know they can use IVR self-service touchpoint to avoid waiting in the queue for an agent and can be used at any time, 24/7. Therefore, it is important not to assume that customers know the benefits of the IVR self-service touchpoint for resolving their inquiries.

If a customer chooses to be transferred to an agent, the agent should be able to view all of the customer’s IVR actions on the first screen on their desktop. This approach can help avoid customer frustration and dissatisfaction because customers do not have to repeat themselves and, as a result, will experience a seamless transition from the IVR to the call center. Unfortunately, too many organizations have their IVR systems ask the customer for authentication information only for the customer to be asked again when they reach an agent.

Keeping track of customer IVR self-service actions taken (e.g., information entered or menu options chosen) and allowing agents to view this information makes it easier for both the customer and the agent when resolving the customer’s inquiry. For example, if the agent starts the call by saying, “I see you used the IVR for handling the following interaction…,” rather than, “How may I help you today?” then the customer would feel it was a seamless experience for resolving their inquiry or problem. Unfortunately, it has been SQM’s experience that very few organizations provide an omni-touchpoint (e.g., seamless experience) when the IVR self-service touchpoint is one of the touchpoints used to resolve the same inquiry or problem.

One of the biggest reasons for a repeat call is a customer following up to verify or confirm the status of their inquiry or problem. Proactive outbound customer service is one of the best practices for improving a customer’s experience. Instead of being reactive by waiting for the customer to contact the organization, the proactive outbound IVR practice allows the organization to keep customers informed about their inquiries or problems without calling back again. In addition, an automated outbound IVR can be personalized to give information via the IVR touchpoint.

A proactive outbound IVR practice is self-service because it does not require an agent and deflects inbound calls. Customers value receiving confirmation through outbound communication because it gives them the confidence that their inquiry or problem was resolved. It should be stated that, regardless of what touchpoint is used by a customer, proactive outbound communication is an effective practice for keeping customers informed about the status of their inquiry or problem. However, very few organizations use a proactive outbound communication practice to keep their customers informed about their inquiries or problems. When the customer uses the IVR self-service touchpoint, the organization can provide the customer with the touchpoint options of how they would like to receive outbound notifications (e.g., IVR, SMS, email). Using this practice, the organization also records the customer’s permission to be contacted.

How to Measure the IVR Self-service Touchpoint?

To assess the success of the IVR self-service touchpoint for resolving common, low-complexity call types, the contact center should measure customers who do not zero out, which is viewed as touchpoint containment. However, touchpoint containment cannot measure whether the customer is expected to be able to resolve their call in the IVR self-service touchpoint. Only the customer can determine their expectation for resolving their inquiry in the IVR self-service touchpoint. Ultimately, SQM believes that the most effective metric for measuring the IVR self-service touchpoint is the One Contact Resolution (OCR) metric. The reason for this belief is that OCR determines whether the customer expected to be able to resolve their interaction in the IVR touchpoint and if they were successful at resolving their inquiry without having to use another contact touchpoint.

After a customer uses the IVR self-service touchpoint, the organization should determine the customer’s experience when using this touchpoint. This can be achieved with an outbound IVR or phone survey. The post-call survey should ask the following questions:

  • Overall how satisfied were you with your IVR experience?
  • Was your inquiry or problem resolved?
  • How many calls did you make trying to resolve your inquiry?
  • Why was your inquiry or problem not resolved?
  •  Did you have to use another touchpoint to resolve your inquiry or problem?

Post Customer Survey

Summary of IVR Self-Service Touchpoint Best Practices

The following is a summary of IVR self-service touchpoint best practices for resolving an inquiry or problem:

  • ​For the IVR self-service touchpoint to be successful at resolving an inquiry or problem, determine the appropriate call types this touchpoint should handle
  • IVR self-service touchpoint scripts must be easy to understand, speak at a pace everybody can understand, use positive language, avoid organizational jargon, and use natural-sounding voice talent for the voice prompts
  • Use natural language understanding and visual IVR technology practices
  • Give customers a zero-out choice to speak with an agent at any time. Let customers know about this option at the beginning of the call
  • Design an IVR self-service menu using a 2-by-4 structure; two menu layers and each menu layer having only four menu options
  • Give customers the ability to barge through the menu instructions so they can quickly move through the menu options
  • Provide customers with the menu option first before prompting them for an action (e.g., “for billing, press 1”)
  • Allow the agent to view all of the customer’s IVR actions on the first screen on their desktop
  • Determine the effectiveness of the IVR self-service touchpoint for resolving routine, low-complexity call types by measuring OCR
  • Measure Csat and OCR before, during, and after the implementation of IVR self-service changes
  • Use the IVR system for proactive outbound communications to give customers status updates or to confirm resolution
  • Sell customers on the benefits of using the IVR self-service touchpoint for resolving a low complexity inquiry or problem

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