‘Please wait while we connect you to...’: Customer service takes a back seat with interactive voice response systems

I am yet to come across a consumer who likes those automated answering services that businesses employ in the name of customer service
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Published on Sep 04, 2021 05:34 PM IST
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ByBy Pushpa Girimaji

I am yet to come across a consumer who likes those automated answering services that businesses employ in the name of customer service. Yet, I do not see an end to this interactive voice response (IVR) system. In fact, I have begun to believe that businesses put up these automated responses with the sole objective of discouraging their customers from calling them or complaining about their products or services.

The IVR systems can be particularly frustrating when you urgently want to talk to a human being or a ‘customer care executive’ at the other end to resolve your problem quickly , but in order to get to that executive, you have to manoeuvre through endless options that offer you no solution, but only waste your time and test your patience.

Going through the IVR menu is sometimes like going through an endless maze - within each option in the menu, you come across more choices and finally, after what seems like a marathon hurdle race, when you come to the human interface stage, either the line gets cut off or you have to be ready for another long wait before you can talk to the human being at the other end. Or you discover, after a lengthy struggle with a complicated and long IVR menu, that there is no human interface at all and that you have just wasted a lot of time. Who can remain calm and composed at the end of such experiences?

Companies may be saving on salaries by using these IVR systems but they are certainly not earning the respect or loyalty of their customers. In fact, they might well be losing their customers to competitors.

Here is an example, narrated by a reader. Following a serious health issue, he was advised by his doctors to get a particular test done every three months. He was using the same laboratory recommended by his doctor and this time, he noticed that they had sent him the result of the previous quarter’s test. Upset, he called the laboratory technician who had come to take the blood sample and when he failed to help, he called the laboratory to ask for the latest report. That one call changed his perception of the laboratory and he says he does not want to patronise them ever again.

He says he had to wade through eight or nine menu options, none of which could help him with his problem. Finally, when he reached the stage where his call would be connected to a human being, he had to wait for over half an hour to finally speak to the company representative. Thus, what could have been resolved in half a minute, took almost an hour, thanks to the IVR.

Interestingly, several surveys conducted in the United States have shown consumer displeasure, anger and frustration over the IVR system. A study commissioned by Interactions Corporation and conducted by an assistant professor of communications in the New York University in 2011, for example, showed an overwhelming consumer dissatisfaction -- 83 per cent -- with the IVR systems.

The situation has not changed much over the years. A more recent research, published in September 2019 by Vonage, revealed that IVR menus had prompted 51 per cent of consumers to move away from a business altogether, resulting in a loss of about $262 per customer per year. The research, involving 2010 respondents in the United States, also showed that over 60 per cent of consumers felt the IVR system provided a poor customer experience.

Another study conducted in the US in February and March this year by eGain reinforced the view that IVRs frustrated customers on account of long hold times and their inability to resolve queries.

It’s time businesses took this issue seriously and provided customer care that actually delivers what it promises, without wasting their customers’ time.

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