My heart sinks when I call a company and get the beginnings of a phone menu that requires a series of voice responses or punching in numbers on the keyboard. The reason is that when I call, it is usually because the problem I have cannot be answered by an automated system and requires a human, so I do whatever it takes to short-circuit the system to get one. There is even a website that tells you how to do it for many companies.
Our survey, funded by the industry group Interactions, sampled 1,321 online respondents who were demographically matched to the overall U.S. population. In addition, we conducted 50 in-depth followup interviews and three focus groups to get a better understanding of the patterns in the survey data.
At the beginning of a customer service experience, 90 percent of our respondents want to speak to a live agent. And no matter how their customer service journey starts – with IVR, email, instant messaging, automated chat, virtual assistants (like Siri and similar voice-controlled mobile apps) or social media – by the end, 83 percent have reached a real, live person. Much as Katz and his colleagues saw in 1997, individuals still overwhelmingly want to deal with a human being rather than a machine. If it doesn’t work easily for them, people do what it takes – within what the system permits – to circumvent automated customer service.
When we asked respondents their opinions about IVRs being the most common entrée to customer service help, the results were almost uniformly negative. Only 10 percent were satisfied with their experience and approximately 35 percent of respondents found the systems difficult to use. Just 3 percent actually liked using the IVR service.
The telling statistic is that 90% of people wanted to speak to a live person and 83% finally did so. This means that all that time spent in navigating the menu was a waste. It may be that the menu helped you get to the right person but in my experience even when you have given all kind of identifying information to the IVR and finally do get a real person on the line, you often have to provide that person with a lot of that information all over again, suggesting that you have not been directed to someone who is a specialist in your case but could have gone to that person directly.
The article provides interesting insights into why we hate IVRs so much.
People also consistently reported their frustration with the robot’s (in)ability to understand them and the need to repeat the same information many times during the interaction without making progress. People still just want to get to a live agent. Overall, respondents reported feeling like the IVR robot is “dragging out the conversation” and forcing them to pick from prompts that don’t really fit their problem. All of this leaves consumers “feel[ing] like I’m being managed,” as one woman described it.
Interestingly, people had strong emotional responses to these experiences. They reported fear about not understanding the prompts or pressing the wrong button, anger and frustration when the IVRs do not lead them to the right place, and an overwhelming sense of stress in general.
I sometimes wonder if the purpose of these IVRs is simply to frustrate people so that they will get fed up and go away and not bother the company.