For the past several weeks we have pontificated about online banking security, two factor authentication, securing customer data and identity theft. We believed we had informed our faithful readers and were certain these issues were behind us. But then Citibank loses account data for 3.9 million customers. Ironically, Citi claimed it did not lose it, but rather UPS. Yeah right! Folks, this is getting ridiculous. Pretty soon our customers are going to withdraw their funds and start keeping it in their mattresses.
Frustrated by my inability to focus on copy for this week’s article, I turned my attention to personal matters and called my mortgage company to see if I could get my PMI removed. What fun! Nothing says service like a bank’s call center.
I pulled out my cheat sheet for navigating the IVR (interactive voice response) menu. I knew I would need to speak with a customer service representative, and my cheat sheet had the magic numbers. The prompts went something like this:
I call, the IVR picks up on the third ring… welcome to The Acme Mortgage Bank…please listen carefully as our menu has changed.
Doh! Okay, just a minor setback. I needed to speak with a live agent and this was the only way in. The journey begins… And I am sure most of you have been down this road:
Endless menu options, fingertips sore from button pressing, inputting of account numbers and SSN digits, multiple electronic voices and the soft, soothing sounds of Kenny G…. Whether PMI information was a menu option I do not know. My brain went numb after the seventh #.
When I finally got to the end of my journey I was presented with two options: hang up the phone or press “0” to speak with a customer service representative.
Decisions, decisions…..Hang up or speak? Accepting my loss of control over the IVR but satisfied, nonetheless, that I had made it this far, I pressed “0.” Although I had forgotten why I called in the first place, after all that work I definitely wanted to speak with someone.
Following a few minutes of hearing about how busy they were, a friendly human voice comes through the line. The first thing out of her mouth, though, was, “Can I have your loan account number please?” You’ve got to be kidding me! So I did what any rational person would do, I hung up. Enough is enough.
GonzoBankers, I wonder how many customers we have lost to competitors after an experience similar to the aforementioned.
A call/contact center can consist of many components but because of my recent experience I want to focus on two: IVR and CTI – computer telephony integration. I realize these technologies are not as cool as instant messaging, Web chats with live agents, automatic email responses or the rest of the Web self-service topics. But folks, here at Gonzo HQ we like to keep it real. A bank that can’t get the IVR and CTI right has a slim chance of getting customers to use any of the cool gadgets.
The red pill or the blue pill?
An IVR is like licorice; you either love it or hate it. IVR applications live or die based on callers’ perception of how easy it is to use them. Case in point, my mortgage bank’s IVR was not perceived by me to be user friendly; consequently, I choose not to use it. I will visit the branch from now on. To be fair to the IVR vendors, their technology is not to be blamed (at least not all the time). The fault lies with us—the bankers.
A key element in any successful voice response system is giving callers the feeling of choice and control.
When I called my mortgage company, I had a particular issue in mind. I exercised a choice to call the call center instead of visiting a branch. I knew I would need to speak with a live agent. But the choice to press “0” for a live agent was not offered until I had reached the end of the menu journey. The system was in control.
In the movie the Matrix (one of my favorites), Neo (Keanu Reeves) was offered a choice between two pills: one blue, the other red. Neo could take the blue pill, life would remain simple and the story would end. Or he could take the red pill (which he did) and see everything he ever wanted to see. My IVR experience was like entering the Matrix after taking the red pill. Unlike Neo, however, I wanted the blue pill. I didn’t want to know everything about my mortgage; I just wanted an answer to a simple question about PMI.
Yet with every press of a button I fell deeper into the rabbit hole. By the time I reached the end, I felt as though I was being mocked. Attention customer: having made it through the treacherous IVR menu you now have two choices: hang up the phone or press “0” and wait a little longer.
Some customers may like going through a detailed IVR menu because they are not exactly sure what they are looking for; others want access to information quickly and easily. Keeping this in mind I offer up the following suggestions for the design of an IVR menu:
1. Make the system as easy to use and familiar as possible
Try to tie the IVR menu options to the same hyperlink structure used on the Web site, e.g., if the online banking structure is accounts, balances, transfers, bill pay, make sure the IVR flow is the same.
2. Let callers feel in control
3. Keep the user interface consistent
Integrate, Integrate, Integrate
My frustration at the end of my IVR nightmare could have been avoided. Around the second step in my IVR journey I was ordered to enter my loan account number. That, along with my PIN, identified me to the mortgage company and allowed it to present a plethora of information about my loan. When I hit “0” and the live agent finally entered the scene, instead of saying, “How can I help you Mr. Johnson?” incredulously she asked me for my loan account number.
Computer telephony integration is an application that would have enabled my loan account information to be passed from the IVR directly to the live agent’s desktop, preventing the need to ask for my account number. Having spent what felt like forever inside this IVR matrix, a friendly acknowledgement of who I was would have gone a long way.
GonzoBankers, a call center front ended with an IVR can be a great benefit to your organization. It can divert basic customer inquiries away from the branch, allowing branch personnel to focus more on sales instead of support. At the same time, it can become your Achilles heel if you don’t put the appropriate amount of time into designing the menu flows. When is the last time you called your bank’s IVR? If you haven’t, I would encourage you to do so. You might be surprised by what you find.
Until next time.