I just finished listening to and reading through detailed commentary on 26 electric and gas utility interactive voice response systems (IVRs), and found five common issues that tended to elicit the strongest negative emotions. The recordings and written commentary came from the 16 reviewers we contracted last year to assess the usability of 96 electric and gas company IVRs for 10 key features as part of the E Source Review of North American Electric and Gas Company IVRs: 2013. Truly, any industry can benefit from following these five easy tips for improving your IVR, as they’re key to helping you create positive customer experiences. Remember, a happy caller is more likely to be kind to your contact center agents!

  1. Avoid hanging up on callers. We strongly recommend never hanging up on callers for any reason, including high call volume. Some reviewers encountered IVRs that mentioned there being a high number of calls, asked callers to call back later or visit the website, and then hung up on them instead of offering a callback option. Other times, reviewers were disconnected after completing a task or failing to enter account information instead of being provided further options. Such experiences leave a negative impression of the company in callers’ minds. Instead of hanging up on callers, put the decision to disconnect in callers’ hands, creating a more positive customer experience.
  2. Don’t make callers hang up and dial another number. Our reviewers encountered several IVRs that told them to hang up and call another number to complete a task such as making a payment or reporting an outage or gas leak emergency. When a task must be completed in a separate IVR, it’s best practice to directly transfer callers into the other system instead of making them hang up and call another number. Make sure to let callers know they’re being transferred into a separate system so they understand what’s happening.
  3. Provide helpful navigation options throughout the IVR. Adding helpful navigation options throughout the entire IVR such as “Repeat this menu,” “Repeat this information,” “Go back to the previous menu,” and “Return to the main menu” makes systems more user-friendly and leads to better experiences with the IVR. Our reviewers encountered several IVRs with areas where they would get stuck when they navigated down the wrong path and were forced to hang up and try another path.
  4. Offer a specific option to access a live agent. Several IVRs that our reviewers called had no explicit options that allowed customers to reach a live agent from any of the menus, even though calls were transferred to customer service representatives (CSRs) after making other selections. Having an explicit option to reach a CSR greatly improves the process for callers who have a specific concern that isn’t addressed in the IVR’s menus.
  5. Avoid switching voices in the IVR. Hearing voices switch in the IVR can be jarring or confusing to callers. In one instance, our reviewers noted hearing three voices that weren’t the same gender spliced together within one IVR. Best practice is to use one friendly, professional, and consistent voice throughout the recording, and to minimize the use of computerized voices.

Check out the E Source Utility IVR Design Center for more helpful design considerations.

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