When it comes to optimizing the customer experience, it's important to strike a proper balance between technology and human interaction. It all begins with gaining an understanding of why a customer might want to reach out to your brand to have an interaction. There is no better example than the one recently presented at a healthcare contact center event I attended.
At the show, call center managers explained how important it is in a clinical medical environment for callers to speak with a human who can immediately address their concern. When someone is having an interaction with a healthcare provider, chances are they've got a terrible issue going on in their life. That's the worst time to present someone with a technological solution. Their brain is already focused on an issue with a loved one. That cognitive load makes it difficult for people to spend time trying to figure out how to navigate unfamiliar technology.
People in the healthcare industry also think it's disrespectful to put technology in front of people when they really need a human to help them understand the situation. People don't need to talk to an IVR before they're connected to the information desk or ICU. Instead, the only technology they should need is the telephone they're using to make the call.
On the other hand, if you're a financial services institution or airline, people are connecting with you to get a different kind of information. It could be to see the account balance, payment due date, transaction history, or flight schedule. In this case, people really prefer self-service to quickly and easily get their information. It's easy to extract that kind of information from a database, and there's really no need to go through the pleasantries of a conversation with another person. Self-service technology does a wonderful job in situations where customers are trying to quickly obtain simple information.
Making the Right Choice
How can you figure out whether or not a technological solution is appropriate for your situation? It's a matter of putting yourself in the customer's shoes. Is it important for customers to perform a matter-of-fact transaction that requires some form of authentication? Or are they really looking for a detailed conversation that only a human can provide? In the clinical environment I described earlier, it makes absolutely no sense to make people run a gauntlet of multi-factor authentication to finally speak with a human who can tell them what room their child is in.
From the customer's perspective, companies will choose technology over humans simply because it's cheaper. That's not really the whole story—it's important to understand why things are structured the way that they are. Web interactions are the least expensive, typically costing less than a dollar per interaction after looking at the total cost of operation. Self-service interaction over the phone is from two to ten times as expensive ($5-$15/interaction). Think about all the increased time and effort involved just to retrieve some trivial information.
There's always going to be an economic argument driving organizations to self-service technology, either over the web or through an IVR. But in this age of Customer Experience, the companies who think about how their customers will interact and build their technology around this, will thrive. They will drive customer loyalty and advocacy because they care about the customer's desire to reach an agent, not spend time navigating an IVR.