How a smart IVR can improve agent efficiency

This is a guest post from Nogol Tardugno, Director of Customer Success at Plum Voice.

We’ve heard a lot recently about the latest customer service channels like web and mobile – but is that focus leading us contact center professionals away from some of our market? After all, the research continues to reinforce the importance of the phone channel:

  • Microsoft’s 2018 Global State of Customer Service Report found that 39 percent of customers globally, and 44 percent in the U.S., still prefer the voice channel.
  • McKinsey has reported that customers find IVR technology can be the fastest way to resolve simple inquiries, such as troubleshooting internet connections or checking the delivery status of a package.

A lot has also been said about the benefits that IVR provides to your contact center’s bottom line in terms of shorter hold times, the capacity to answer more calls without staff changes, and of course the millions of dollars saved on telephony charges, staff hours, and other operational costs. But how exactly does it work, and what are the real effects on your agents’ efficiency?

Defining a Smart IVR

A smart IVR is one that has been programmed with sufficient menuing paths to allow your customers to handle simple, common tasks such as checking their account balance or paying a bill without needing to speak to a human. A smart IVR will also route callers to the right agent or department to handle specific product- or process-related questions, again without the need to talk to a human in order to be transferred. The more quickly and easily your customers can handle these self-service tasks themselves, the higher your customer satisfaction scores.

However, even speed and convenience don’t replace your customers’ need to feel valued. Therefore, anything your IVR can do to personalize their experience and make them feel like less of a number is critical to your company’s long-term success.

Does your IVR recognize them by name? Allow them to speak their responses? Connect the dots between their recent experiences in other channels and the current call? Recognize a frustrated customer by the tone of their voice? Proactively remind them to make a payment because the due date is coming up?

In other words, a well-planned smart IVR handles each call from the perspective and goals of the customer – not the company. The language should reflect the customer’s needs and not the company’s internal jargon, and the menus should be organized to facilitate all your previously prioritized and documented customer journeys.

Agents as Consultants

As referenced above, one indirect goal of a smart IVR is to smooth your callers’ path if they want to go straight to an agent — as opposed to what many customers feel has often happened in the past, where the goal seems to have been to obscure the path to an agent behind a wall of menu options. Why have customers historically drawn that conclusion? Consider these statistics from American Express:

  • 67 percent of customers have hung up the phone in frustration when they couldn’t reach a customer service representative.
  • On the other hand, 68 percent of customers have said that same customer service rep is the key to their positive service experience, with 62 percent further specifying that their positive experience is due at least in part to the rep’s knowledge and resourcefulness.

So this, then, is what your agents spend their days doing if your customers are using the self-service IVR at their own convenience. Your agents handle the more complex, meaningful requests from your customers, which means more variety and challenge in their work and more reliance on their knowledge and skills. Implementation of a smart IVR can pave the way for each member of your contact center team to feel less like a rote button-pusher and more like a consultant who specializes in your company’s products and services. This change frees them from boredom, slows the trend toward burnout, and empowers them to respond to your customers as the emotional situation dictates – one human being to another. These are all qualities that customers have indicated they most want to encounter in customer service representatives, and qualities that go a long way toward minimizing the inefficiencies that have so often plagued the contact center.

A smart IVR also allows your customer service team to pursue the more proactive outreach that customers say helps burnish their opinion of a brand. When all of your customers’ self-service data is available through a single interface, your team can analyze it and identify the customers who will benefit from taking advantage of specific opportunities, such as important product updates, banking rate changes, etc. Alerting your customers to these opportunities builds the relationship and helps create a complete and beneficial customer experience.

However, upgrading your agents’ standing comes with some responsibilities. Both you and your agents must be prepared to engage in a continuous program of training and education – everything from company lore and product information to emotional intelligence and problem solving. Having this training grounded in your contact center culture not only improves your agents’ skillsets as company representatives but ensures important lessons become ingrained in long-term memory while minimizing any pre-existing bad habits. The good news is, this training doesn’t have to all be of the old-school classroom variety; your agents should have access to online learning including videos, informational databases, ebooks, quizzes, webinars, podcasts – any format that will allow them to learn on demand within whatever parameters their day provides.

Redefining Agent Efficiency

If your agents’ roles are changing to rely more on their talent and intelligence, your KPIs must, as well. One quick example is the time agents need to work through more complex calls; you’ll probably find that a metric like average handle time will not tell you what you need to know. More relevant KPIs are likely to be your call containment rates vs. abandonment, FCR, NPS, and other qualitative, production-based metrics. Further, today’s analytical and workflow tools allow you to go beyond KPIs to develop a real-time profile of each agent’s daily activity. And only then can you set workable benchmarks and define what optimum agent efficiency looks like within the operations of your contact center.


This is a guest post from Nogol Tardugno, Director of Customer Success at Plum Voice.


About Nogol

Nogol TardugnoNogol Tardugno is the Director of Customer Success at Plum Voice. With over 18 years of experience, she is passionate about delivering the best customer journey through the use of technology. She has a background in Computer Information Systems and has worked in financial, digital marketing and CPaaS industries.


Thanks to Pixabay for the image.


Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Site Footer

Ready to harness your inner CX punk?

I made a newsletter. It’s called Punk CX. You might not like it. Then again, you might.

Sign up here to find out.

Oh, there’s now a new book out of the same name. It’s mine too. Again, you might not like it. It’s like a very visual punch in the face for the CX industry.

Punk CX cover

Check it out here.