Telephone numbers - hide and seek?
I was drawn to a headline in Wednesday's 'I' newspaper which read: “How to raise GDP? pick up the phone!” The writer makes a cogent plea on behalf of frustrated consumers who are increasingly infuriated by organisations which require them to navigate poorly-designed IVR menus.
IVR sparks a 'Pavlovian' response, raising customers’ hackles as soon as they hear the words ‘Press 1 for...’ And yet IVR, when deployed intelligently, is an excellent technology that is currently suffering from a desperately poor press due to clumsy and ill-thought-out application.
Another gripe voiced was being made to wait for weeks for a written response to a telephone enquiry - even when the enquiry is of a relatively simple nature. The author makes a simplistic but perhaps valid point that if all companies simply picked up the phone and answered enquiries promptly, GDP could be a great deal more than 0.3%.
Organisations frequently pride themselves on offering an increasingly large choice of contact channels but in reality some channels (often those preferred by a significant number of customers) become far less consumer-friendly and simply harder to access. Choice becomes an illusion rather than a reality and as a result consumers are left with the impression that organisations are trying to avoid contact. There's nothing more frustrating than being forced to go online because your attempts to just pick up the phone and sort things out have been thwarted.
There seems to be an illogical belief among organisations that if they publish their numbers openly then we will all go mad and phone them - the ‘forbidden fruits’ theory. But seriously, how many of us have the time or inclination to make unnecessary calls just because we can?
Most organisations in the CCA network are well aware of the need to reduce failure calls and to proactively reduce the need for inbound calls in order to free up valuable time for productive conversations. But achieving this is easier said than done as evidenced by the numbers of calls still being received despite a proliferation of multichannel offerings.
Undoubtedly the issue of diminishing trust lies at the heart of why many consumers feel the need to call, check and check again. Fixing this is a hard nut to crack and requires relentless focus from the whole organisation and support from the board, on treating customers openly, consistently and fairly.
CCA research shows that in the financial sector regulations designed to protect consumers increasingly result in robotic interactions rather than empathetic conversations. Organisations need to take an innovative approach to counter this: there are encouraging developments which augur well for the future eg Barclays Wealth is making intelligent use of voice biometrics for customer ID verification security checks reducing the need for Personal Identity Numbers and for repeated ID questions. Also, RBS is training all frontline staff to deal with technology enquiries rather than referring them on to a specialist team.
Sometimes it is the simple things that are easiest to fix. If every organisation that uses IVR did a regular and thorough test of its effectiveness and helpfulness to customers then I am convinced that levels of customer trust would improve and levels of frustration would fall. Who knows, maybe that would encourage consumers to do more business and provide a much-needed fillip to the economy. At the risk of repeating myself, good service doesn't need to cost more than bad service.