Anyone who has tried to reach a customer service representative, called his or her local government office, or simply tried to reach a local school or business has run into an interactive voice response at least once. These are the automated phone trees that most people seem to loathe; they cause people to continually press "0" with the hope that it will lead them directly to a real person.
Advances in IVR technology, such as voice recognition, may be changing the public's collective attitude about these systems, but regardless of whether or not they are hated, loved, or just tolerated, some businesses are moving forward and using IVR to benefit their operations. As a blog post this week from Business 2 Community points out, businesses are completing some interesting work and stretching the limits of what voice response systems can achieve.
First, B2C points out, some businesses are completing market research with their IVRs, and they are attempting to make the process less painful for anyone on the receiving end. "Using outbound IVR surveys, businesses can discover what interests target audiences, what problems they encounter, [and] what gaps in the market they want to see filled." Furthermore, businesses can complete such surveys in real time, so as soon as a customer responds with a want or need, businesses can react to those desires by making product changes or perhaps changes to their marketing operations.
If customers are engaged and already seeking to make purchases, IVRs can provide them with reminders of product renewals. If a customer's magazine subscription is coming up on the year's end, for instance, a simple phone call can remind him to re-subscribe if he so desires. In addition, the IVR can provide such a customer a way to renew his subscription on the spot by allowing him to answer a few necessary questions regarding contact information and billing updates.
Lastly, B2C notes, some businesses are also using IVRs to remind customers of packages that will soon arrive or are scheduled for delivery. The IVR can allow a customer to say when he will be home so the delivery company does not have to visit multiple times. Not only does this improve convenience for all involved, it also places some amount of power in the customer's hands because he can specify on which date and at which time he will be home. The business will do its best to arrange its schedule around the customer so no one's time is wasted.
Although customers in any of these situations may continue to see IVR as impersonal and may still wish to hunt for that “0” key, IVR is undoubtedly attempting to get beyond that notion with the element of added convenience. It is providing consumers with the power to make live changes and suggestions with respect to their chosen brands. It can be argued that the consumers have never had it better. Perhaps the added convenience comes at the expense of a lack of live operator assistance, but when customers can get their chosen products in their hands quickly and efficiently, their thoughts will be primarily on their products.