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IVRs, decay and bridges – the first of three postcards from this year's Professional Planning Forum conference in Brighton

Earlier in the year I was invited to sit in on, and write about, a couple of award finalist presentations at the Professional Planning Forum’s annual conference. It took place in Brighton that, with it's mix of Regency architecture and modern pop culture (including some brilliant street art), was an intriguing backdrop for two days of talk about service. Here's the first of two postcards from the south coast, written at the time but not posted until now.
Brighton Pic 1The first of these presentations was by the mobile communications provider Three about their IVR redesign. During the session they described how they significantly reduced the journey time through their IVR to improve the service experience from the customer’s view. And, increased self-service use by 75% to cut operating costs. The most remarkable thing was that all this was achieved without having to spend a penny on new technology. It showed that you don’t have to change technology wholesale to make a big difference. And, as soh have found when working with clients, a simple audit and redesign can be all it takes to reduce transfers by 50%, increase self-service by 25% and even improve sales.
The part that really caught my attention, rather unexpectedly, was that at one point in the presentation I heard one of the presenters say: “what we had before was a mess”. They’re words that I've listened to many times before and have written myself, maybe too often.
It got me thinking. It’s too easy to simply dismiss previous IVR projects as misguided from the outset. The individuals that created them were probably no less capable than those who came after and later judge their work as dysfunctional (and in some cases are actually the same individuals). More often the efficiency and effectiveness of IVRs reduce because of another factor – time. Sorry, that’s a bit of a cop out. The cause isn’t time itself. It’s actually that time enables other things to happen and they do the damage. Do we just forget what the original constraints and objectives were? Become less willing to test the constant requests for changes against them? Or, maybe, the objectives have changed, and an IVR is being judged against a need that it was simply never designed to meet.
During the opening session of the conference Paul Smedley, PPF Chairman, described the significance of the conference’s theme, ‘bridging the gap’. Define where you are. Decide where you want to go. And, finally, work out how to bridge the difference between the two with technology, people and processes of your choosing. 
But, at the risk of taking a bridge too far (apologies), I think that it’s also interesting to consider this: Will your bridge withstand the test of time? At the beginning of your IVR project think about what governance you’ll need to put in place to stop it decaying to the point at which it’s thought of as ‘a bit of a mess’. soh have seen many IVRs and the topic of controlling change and altering objectives is always one that sparks a lot of debate. If you’d like to know more about how you can manage IVR changes better, just get in touch.
Maybe great IVRs, like great bridges, should stand for many many years.
by Martin. July 2014.

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