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Allison Smith: State of the IVR Address

We’re delighted to welcome Allison Smith as our first (and only) Guest Columnist. We had asked Allison to provide us an update on IVR technology, and she was gracious enough to accept our invitation. For most of our readers, Allison is best known for her pioneering work as the Voice of Asterisk®. But her accomplishments as the professional telephone voice for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, and Bell Canada among others are legendary. So… here’s Allison!

We’ve come a long way from the mindset of thirty years ago, where people approached the writing of their IVR prompts with the intention of guiding their callers through this strange, unfamiliar, automated land. Where we needed to point out that this is not an actual, live person speaking. Where we felt it was necessary to point out that if they simply listen to and follow these instructions, they will be rewarded with an answer, obeying an almost Oz-like mission, deciding which attribute best describes what you’re after and selecting the right department which will fulfill your dreams.

We are now so attuned to the idea of encountering an automated “gating” system when calling practically any entity – be they local dry cleaner or multinational – that we are in shock if the call is answered by an actual breathing person. Whereas before, designers of IVR trees were in the position of almost enticing or inviting the caller to “participate” in the exercise of finding the right department which best suits their needs, by now, everyone knows that this is a necessity to get where they want to go; and everyone knows the drill: I need to make a decision as to where my call should go – and it will be a big waste of my time if I choose incorrectly.

We’ve also come a long way towards streamlining and simplifying IVR instructions – through trial and error, we’ve got a clearer idea than ever as to the caller’s capacity for information – and their tolerance for time-wasting nonsense.
Instead of lengthy and complicated instructions on how clients can reach your physical location, I’m frequently voicing the phrase I’ve long campaigned for: “For directions to our facility, program our address into your GPS-enabled device…” Gone are hackneyed requests to “Please listen carefully, as our menu options have recently changed..” or “Please leave a detailed message after the tone…” (Nobody – especially first-time callers – care if your phone tree has changed. Also: people are well aware of what information to leave in a phone message.) And most importantly: I’m seeing a huge awareness in the fact that customers do not have an infinite amount of time or patience; get the callers sorted as efficiently and as quickly as possible, and be done with deluging them with too much information or anything which sounds even remotely like a commercial or sales pitch. They’ve been to your website. They’re sold on you. Now show them – through your phone tree – how effortless and easy it is to transact with you. –Allison Smith


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Originally published: Friday, February 22, 2013

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1 Comment

  1. Is there a typo in the article? Should "finite" be "infinite":

    "I’m seeing a huge awareness in the fact that customers do not have a finite amount of time…"

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