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Some IVR Is Just Stupid

Does your phone system implement some interactive voice response, aka IVR? Do you know how bad IVR can drive your customers nuts? It can actually drive them away. Here are a couple of examples from my personal life.

Here in Houston there’s a very successful Greek restaurant called Niko Niko’s. Stella likes this place a lot. I like their food but I don’t like to go there. It’s always busy. It’s simply too noisy a place to have a relaxing meal.

Our method of accommodating my wife’s humus habit is to order take-out. They don’t deliver, so we call ahead to place our before going to pick it up. Now you know why we encounter their IVR…we’re calling to place an order.

Every call to their main number goes into their IVR and gets greeted by a menu;

  • Starts with a short second musical interlude
  • To place a pickup order press 1
  • For hours & directions press 2
  • To reach our catering department press 2
  • To reach accounting
  • To work with us press 5

To the novice this might make perfect sense, but it drives me as a customer nuts. It fails to recognize the primary role of the telephone in their business….taking orders. I’m willing to bet that 90% of incoming calls are for pick-up orders.

Phones numbers (DIDs) are dirt cheap. The restaurant could improve their customer experience by using a number dedicated to placing pickup orders. Split the business calls (catering, HR, accounting) from the ordering calls. Don’t put every customer through the IVR menu unnecessarily.

Management probably showed more concern for their staff than customers in setting this up. They probably didn’t want to burn staff time giving out hours and directions. That’s perfectly understandable.

Here’s my alternative plan. Make the hours and directions be the hold message for the call queue on the order line. Also, make it available as an extension so that a cashier taking such a request directly can transfer the call to the pre-recorded message. Program that transfer act to be a one key-press function on phones where they take orders.

target-pharmacy-bottleNext on my IVR hit parade; Target Pharmacy auto refill service. This comes up less often because I only refill prescriptions roughly quarterly. Their IVR system is not all that bad, but it could stand to be refined.

In particular, the prompt regarding their “automatic refill” service is too dumb. After every time you call to order a refill they prompt you to sign-up for an auto-refill service that will schedule the prescription be refilled when they think that there’s only 6 days supply left in the cabinet.

I prefer not to use this service. If I call in the refill then I know to go pick it up.  Also, sometimes things don’t get used every day, so the refill period is not what the pharmacy might project.

Where the IVR fails is that it does not track your preference with respect to the auto-refill service. If you don’t sign-up for it the they badger you about it at every turn. If I’m ordering three meds refilled I will be forced through the menu about the auto-refill service three times in one call.

If I don’t sign-up for the service then don’t offer it to me the next time, h’mmokay pumpkin? I’m choosing to opt out. That means not badgering me at our every encounter.

Your IVR may well be one of the primary points of contact between your business and your customers. Give it some thought. Get some customer feedback. Iterate. Adapt. Refine the process.

We…that is your customers…will go elsewhere if you IVR doesn’t facilitate our needs and respect our time.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Begging the Colonel’s pardon, but every IVR option should be available on the menu, unless there’s a reasonable sub-option hierarchy. Not putting hours & directions on the main menu would be nuts! You had to hit “1” to place an order? Poor baby… If, as you say, they are always busy, then hours and directions are probably hit as often as ordering! If the menu were horribly long, or the most-used option were at the end, or the IVR were uninterruptible, then you may complain.
    The idea of a DID order line is great, if you can get people to memorize (or look up) another number. Hey, I still remember the first (only) number for Mary Chung’s Chinese Restaurant, and it’s been years since I’ve been in Cambridge… but a new number?!? Eek. In the ideal world, one phone number takes you where you want to go.
    The only part of your UI rant where I see a flaw, you didn’t even mention: There should not be any time to play the MOH before the IVR takes over! Maybe they multiplexed a fax listener — there’s no other good reason not to answer on the first ring and identify the business immediately.

    1. The idea would to to sustain the existing phone number for orders, adding a new DID for the office dwellers.

      Now, for another case….how about banking-by-phone where the bank wants you to key in your ATM card number, PIN and the last four digits of your SS before they transfer you to a human? Given how easy it is to capture call media Isn’t that an invitation to fraud?

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