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January 13, 2010

Yes, Customers Like Talking to Computers: Forrester/Nuance Study

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

Customers don’t like talking to computers? Right? Wrong: Instead they prefer using DTMF IVR and speech recognition instead of live agents for straightforward interactions, with the ready option of zeroing out if they have to.
That’s the general finding of a study conducted by Forrester (News - Alert) Consulting on behalf of Nuance titled “Driving Consumer Engagement with Automated Telephone Customer Service.” It reveals that consumers rated automated service higher than live agents for certain straightforward interactions. In five out of ten posed scenarios, individuals preferred automated systems) over live agent interactions for tasks such as:

·                     Prescription refills – 66 percent rated automation highly, compared with 52 percent for live agent
·                     Checking flight status from a cell phone – 61 percent versus 49 percent
·                     Checking account balances – 59 percent versus 36 percent
·                     Store information requests – 55 percent versus 37 percent
·                     Tracking shipments – 53 percent versus 47 percent
The survey revealed that automated systems are an expected and accepted customer service channel with 82 percent of US online adults having used a DTMF IVR or speech rec system to contact customer service in the past 12 months. That figure trails marginally behind only live agent interactions, with which 93 percent of consumers have engaged.
Other key findings include:
·                     Consumers’ satisfaction with customer service leaves a lot of room for improvement. Only 49 percent of U.S. online adults report being satisfied, very satisfied or extremely satisfied with companies’ customer service in general
·                     77 percent of consumers pointed to 7/24 availability as a reason they value automated service systems. Another 40 percent valued that they didn’t have to wait on hold for a live agent, while 31 percent cited the ability to obtain information quickly
·                     Consumers who frequently contact customer service from a wireless device are relatively more amenable to automated service channels. About one-third, roughly 32 percent, of consumers regularly use a cell phone to contact customer service.
The data indicates that in nearly all scenarios, mobile customer service users rate using automated service systems higher than those consumers who do not regularly contact customer service using a cell phone. This is significant due to Forrester’s expectation that the number of wireless-only households will continue to grow, reaching 19 percent of all U.S. households by 2013.
·                     Consumers today are overwhelmingly interested in proactive customer notifications across a variety of industries. For each of the five firm types included in the survey, consumer interest in receiving some form of proactive notification was very strong, ranging from 80 percent – for cable television operators and phone companies – to 93 percent, for travel-related companies.
Moreover 88 percent were interested in notification from their financial services institutions, with strong interest in transaction confirmations. Many surveyors also strongly favored appointment reminders for healthcare, which the study says could be adopted in a variety of other industries as well, such as utilities or professional services
As much as consumers like or at the very least don’t mind automated systems they do want a readily-available option to ‘zero out’. The Forrester study says 67 percent say having that capability is a ‘must have’ before they regard speech-enabled customer interactions as great experiences.
The speech recognition systems must get it right. Some 42 percent of consumers want them to understand them the first time a response is spoken, and 39 percent prefer not to have to repeat themselves. The survey says that automated voice systems can be enhanced by improving software accuracy and employing thorough and logical call flows
 “The contact center plays a crucial role in retaining consumers, yet less than half of U.S. consumers report being satisfied with their customer service experiences,” said Micky Tsui, Nuance’s (News - Alert) senior vice president and general manager, Enterprise. “As the research shows, there is a lot of room to improve customer service. Today’s enterprises have the opportunity to differentiate themselves by considering their customers’ needs and providing intuitive speech applications that improve customer loyalty at every touch point.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire

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