Natural Language IVR

By Rick Kirkham, 17 Sept 2018.

Rick Kirkham, Customer Touch Point

OK Google – play Absolute Radio. Alexa – add 15 avocados to my shopping basket.* Natural Language IVR (NL IVR aka Voice Recognition)

New Technology

I’ll admit it – I have a smart speaker. At first, I was uncomfortable speaking to it and making it do simple tasks that I was more than capable of doing myself. But it only took a few days for me to feel that pressing a few buttons now felt like such an effort for my lazy hand.

It’s fair to say the way we interact with technology is changing. Speech recognition technology is fast becoming part of our everyday lives. Through smart phones, smart speakers, smart watches – we’re feeling more and more comfortable speaking to machines every day. (We’re human, it’s good to talk!) So, could we be [better] utilising this *** within our customer contact? With Natural Language IVR (NL IVR) we certainly think so.

What is Natural Language IVR?

Natural Language IVR is the type of IVR that asks an open question to the caller. Such as ‘what would you like to do today?’, rather than asking to choose from a pre-defined menu. The big thing here is that when it’s done right – it means minimal effort for the caller. And if you know anything about us, it’s that we’re big on reducing customer effort. It allows you to offer customers a fresh and personal experience that encourages them to self-serve, or get through to the right department as necessary – which saves time and money.

When an IVR isn’t well thought out and structured, customers are met with options that don’t give them what they need. Natural Language IVR allows you to swap a string of long menus for just one question. But with both touch tone IVR and Natural Language IVR, callers can only answer the questions you ask. So if you want accurate responses you have to ask the right questions, and in the right way. This is where language and tone of voice come in.

Because you’re not limited to numbers and symbols on your key pad, Natural Language IVR opens up a richer dialogue, and more opportunities for self-serve than DTMF (touch tone IVR). Customers can give postcodes and memorable words and other things that touch tone can’t do – which means saving on agent time and therefore saving money. This also means the system can give customers information quickly and cheaply – such as bank balances, order statuses, statement transactions, or tell them when their next payment is due. Or maybe, with the necessary data, it can even anticipate the caller’s needs ahead – for example, ‘I can see your next balance is due. Would you like to pay it now?’ We have the opportunity to offer an extremely personal and relevant caller experience.

Out with the old…in with the new

Our experience tells us that customers are mostly happy to carry out these transaction type enquiries via automated self-serve, so long as they actually feel natural and specific to their reason for calling. And now’s a great time to embrace this; customers are becoming more comfortable with this kind of technology, and this will increase as generation Y gets older and millennial’s become even more of a force in the market (my 11 year old never types into Google, he speaks to Google).

The challenges

The good news is that Natural Language IVR technology is becoming much more accessible and cheaper to implement in businesses. As with all technology, there are challenges. But challenges encourage new ways of thinking to make things better. A common problem is that Natural language IVR implementations don’t actually feel natural. They’re often clunky, obviously automated and can often leave the caller feeling awkward or frustrated. These feelings can create unwanted behaviours in the caller and reduce the effectiveness of Natural Language IVR. This may lead to a negative experience, and may affect their relationship with brand.

Another difficulty is that sometimes Natural Language IVR is implemented in such a way that it’s designed to be a barrier to talking to someone, rather than a tool that’s there to help customers. As soon as customers sense this they will hash out and not only speak to your agents anyway, they will spend the first 30 seconds telling the how annoying ‘that recorded voice is’. Customers feel your intentions. And if they’re not good – they’ll tell you (and everyone else) about it.

So what is the solution?

The key is in the name – ‘natural’ language. We need to make it feel like an actual conversation. It’s not easy, but it can definitely be done. We need to ask the right questions, and have the right tone of voice to make the caller feel at ease, understood, and empowered to go after what they need.

Here at Customer Touch Point, we have a proven methodology for implementing Natural Language IVR in a way that encourages customers to naturally accept self-serve. If they feel blocked or ‘in a system’, they’ll hash out. 

If you’re thinking about what Natural Language IVR can do for you, or if you already use Natural Language IVR and you’re not getting the results you hoped for – come and speak to us for a free consultation. We’ll show how you can use it to get the results you need.

*Guacamole, anyone? 

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