Raise your hand if you love using interactive voice response systems (IVRs)! … No one? I can’t blame you. My husband and I often engage in a battle of wills when it comes to who is tasked with making a call to our insurance or Internet provider. While we can mostly self-serve on nearly any company website, we reach for the phone to handle questions with more complexity. We hope to connect with a person, but know we’ll end up in the labyrinthine automated phone system.

Why is this sentiment shared by so many customers? According to results from the E Source Omnichannel Survey 2015 (available to E Source Corporate Communications, Customer Care, Customer Experience Strategy, and E-Channel Service members) of roughly 800 residential customers, the IVR ranked lowest among 8 different contact channels for customer perceptions of quality of service and first-contact resolution. The primary reasons customers haven’t used an IVR to interact with any company in the past three months include:

  • A preference for other channels
  • No reason to interact with a company in that time period
  • Not easy to use
  • Lack of confidence that a question would be answered or issue resolved

Although customer confidence in IVRs is low, there are opportunities for utilities to surprise and delight their customers. To increase customer confidence, utilities should look to prove they can handle customers’ most important transactions within the IVR. Our survey results show that some of the most important transactions customers expect to perform on the utility IVR are ones that can be automated, including paying a bill, reporting or getting an update on a gas leak or power outage, and scheduling a service visit. By enhancing self-service for these features, utilities may see not only lower operational costs but also higher customer satisfaction.

Does increasing customer satisfaction with the IVR sound daunting? It shouldn’t! Results from the E Source Review of North American Electric and Gas Company IVRs 2016 (available to E Source Customer Care members) highlight that utilities are doing a lot right, and there have been many improvements in the past few years. Overall, options are quicker to find, IVRs have more features available, and there is more self-service than in 2013, the last year the study was conducted. Check out this excerpt from our recent ebook to get advice on improving your IVR.

Tips for improving your IVR

Illustration showing two hands holding cell phones and a list of tips for improving utility IVRs: Focus on improving functionality, enhance experience for credit- and payment-related features, automate authentication and include only where necessary, increase self-service opportunities.

Though utilities have improved, there is still the pressure of keeping up with customer expectations, especially when it comes to IVR self-service. If customers can look up train schedules and make reservations via the IVR with Amtrak, they should be able to handle basic business with utilities. At the 2016 E Source Forum, September 13–16, we’ll be discussing strategies for enhancing IVR containment, as well as cutting-edge IVR technologies that have already proved to enhance the IVR experience. Join us for the session “Managing IVR Containment While Maintaining Customer Satisfaction” on Thursday, September 15. Not only will you learn about recent E Source market research on IVRs, but you’ll also get to hear from Yolanda France, Director of Customer Contact Operations at SRP. The innovative Arizona utility recently switched to a natural-language IVR and is seeing positive results!

Join us at the Sheraton Downtown Denver, September 13–16, for this year’s E Source Forum!