Can IVRs change their bad reputation?

We’ve all have heard the horror stories about poorly design systems as well as seen people’s reactions whenever the topic of self-service automation and IVRs come up. Let’s be honest, businesses deploy automated solutions to reduce their costs, and customers that are aware of this, see automation as a reflection of poor service and lack of interest from the business in taking care of them.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most systems are referred to as “IVR jails”, business are created with the simple purpose of finding ways for users to bypass those systems or speed up the process until they can reach a human being (like the now defunct Bringo).

That’s why I found the FastCompany article on “Baby-Carrots – The New Junk Food” so interesting and thought provoking.

They talk about how the image of a food that is perceived as a health alternative to junk food (read “boring”) could be transformed into its exact nemesis: the new junk food.

What was their recipe?
1)    Find similarities – they are neon orange, dippable and addictive
2)    Stop trying to go against the flow (no more advocating its health benefits) or attempt to make it “cool”, and instead find a way to get it into a different category altogether
3)    Change its presentation – make it easier to obtain (checkout lane) and consume (vending machines, snack packs)

This made me think, is there a way a similar recipe could be applied to IVRs? Can we make them the new human? Here are a few thoughts:

1)    Find similarities where automated and human-based service flow together
Think about supermarkets. If you opt for the regular checkout lane, a human clerk helps scan and bag your articles, yet after that process ends, you’re “forced” to turn to the little box right by the counter so you can “self-service” yourself for the payment portion of the interaction. Therefore, if you opt instead for the self-service checkout lane, you’re nor replacing a human lane but rather just the human scanning and bagging process. Why do some people like the latter option? Because it is efficient and gives you full control.
Switching to the IVR world, imagine having a process where you could select to use the IVR or a human being to collect your order details, yet at the end your only option was to use a self-service payment process. I think a setup like this would present the same opportunities for users, and makes me wonder how many would opt for 100% self-service because of the same efficiencies and control over the interaction

2)    Stop trying to go against the flow
Similarly, we as designed often attempt to make our systems “cool” or spend a lot of energy trying to convince users about the benefits of self-service. Are there any ways we could get IVRs into a different category altogether? What about entertainment? Can we let users share more easily to turn them into a social media network? Could this simply be a problem with perception? Most users don’t complain about completing transaction on the web or via mobile apps, yet those interactions are fully self-served (many users press “0” as soon as they hear an automated greeting, yet almost no one reaches a website trying to find the “chat now” button)

3)    Change its presentation
I believe this is definitively the future, and we can already see some glimpses of it – systems that intercept data calls and convert them into visual interactions that are a combination of mobile apps and visual IVR trees, or systems that accept verbal input and interpret a user’s request (think “how much have I spent in pet food this year?”) to then present the information in a visual and graphical way

Do you want fries with that?

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