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Why natural speech self-service means you no longer have to choose to be sales, service or moral.

Listening to TalkTalk’s and Three’s presentations about their IVRs at the Professional Planning Forum's annual conference got me thinking. One of the main disadvantages with older touch-tone menu and option IVRs was that something always had to be the first option on the first menu. And, something else had to be the last option on the final menu. The effectiveness of options that are closer to the beginning are greater, especially if there are a lot of options and menus, as users get bored and impatient pretty quickly where IVRs are concerned.
Brighton 2
My final street art pic – communication with a telecoms cabinet, spray paint, a sheep and some imagination. (I’ve spared you a tenuous link to this article, just chuckle and move on)
What’s interesting is to see the basis on which organisations decide what to put where. Most choose what their overall objective is and then select positions for options based on this. This objective is a kind of ‘guiding principle’ (for want of better words). In a brief (and largely unnecessary) Asimov moment I once decided that this was the process by which the soul of a machine was being created by its Gods. Then, I remembered that what was being discussed was where to put ‘for groceries press 1’ and thought better of it.
So, what are these principles? Well, I’ve come across 3 ish. Firstly there’s the ‘sales’ principle. Options to ‘buy’ anything are always at the top. And, sometimes accompanied by sales messages. The risk of a customer not finding their way to an advisor or application to purchase something is minimised and sales are maximised. Not surprisingly it’s a principle that’s used by customer service operations that are focussed on generating revenue as quickly as possible.
Next there’s the service approach. This is more complex but I always think of it as a type of utilitarianism. Putting the most frequently chosen options first will mean that more people will get what they want quicker. Like the philosopher, social reformer and great utilitarian Jeremy Bentham said: "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong". It's also the principle that's most likely to improve service satisfaction scores as well.
The last principle is more of a moral one. Normally it will see those with the ‘greatest need’ being served first. For example, you might find assistance and emergency options placed at the top of the IVR (if they don’t have their own numbers).
Inevitably natural speech self-service will become more commonplace because of the benefits that it provides for customers and businesses. Its prevalence is likely to accelerate as the price falls and it’s effectiveness rises as well. This change will also mean that organisations will no longer have to apply ‘principles’ to their touch-tone IVRs. And, service professionals everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief when they no longer have to bend technology around a set of ethics. But, I’ll miss not being able to understand the ethos of the business I’m being served by, when I’m using their IVR.
by Martin. August 2014.

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