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Is the smartphone replacing the IVR?

Written by   on  Thursday, 14 June 2012

So many of the things that I used to do over the phone are being replaced with funky applications on my Iphone.

These customer service apps are wonderful to use, fast and simple, and provide a far richer experience than is possible when speaking with an agent in a contact centre or talking to an IVR.

Take banking for example...

• Not so long ago I had to call my bank and dial no fewer than 22 'clicks' on my phone just to hear my balance.

• A further 18 'clicks' were required to hear my credit card balance with yet more if I wanted to speak to an advisor.

• After 40 or so 'clicks' on my telephone keypad I was put into a queue until an advisor became available.

It makes me tired just thinking about it!

Now I can access all this and more through a simple app provided by my bank! Suddenly my bank became so much easier to do business with.

Utility Companies Automatic IVR and Social Apps

What about utilities?

For years I have been calling an automated IVR system to update meter readings and make ad-hoc payments. To be fair – this system worked pretty well (after all – it was designed by the Sabio speech team :)) but now I can update my meter reading in seconds using a mobile app provided by my utility.

Again, the app provides a much richer experience by providing me with graphs that show my energy consumption, payment and other account details and even how my consumption compares with other users in my area! Another example of how interacting with an organisation that I do business with has moved from pain to pleasure!

National Rail App Technology

Another example of a great use of app technology comes from the national rail enquiries.

Being an avid user of public transport (currently sat on the train to Bristol whilst writing this blog post) I have watched the evolution of the national rail contact centre over the last 5 years or so.

When the service first started, I used to call the call centre (in Scotland I believe) to find out train times whilst on the go. As was the trend at the time, cost cutting meant that this service off shored to India soon afterwards. To start with the quality of the line was poor and the understanding of UK train stations left a lot to be desired but the quality gradually improved and normal service was resumed. It wasn't long though before automation crept in and a speech enabled service was offered on a separate number.

Being a technophile I tried desperately to make this service work for me but just couldn't get a satisfactory experience – mainly because I was calling the service from noisy environments such as stations. Later attempts at automation using text messaging worked better for me but usability was poor.

Then along came the national rail mobile application.

This enabled users to access train times, departure boards, platform information and more through an interface that was a joy to use. It introduced features such as location based information to allow users to find their nearest station or get times for the next train home.

This had a significant impact on the national rail contact centre – reducing calls significantly (not sure of the exact numbers but would be interested to find out if you are listening #nationalrail.

So are apps eating our contact centres – or at least out IVR's?

There is no doubt that a well-designed app can turn an interaction with your organisation from a (sometimes painful) necessity into a fun, engaging experience – at least for some of the more transactional processes.

The more complex interactions still require the human touch - tune in next time to find out how apps are able to support this! 


Stuart Dorman

Stuart has over thirteen years' experience as a call centre consultant and is currently responsible for leading the consultancy practice at Sabio. Sabio's consultancy team is focussed on helping contact centres to improve sales, productivity, quality and customer service through better use of technology, process optimisation and a focus on people. Stuart is a recognised thought leader in the contact centre industry, regularly producing thought provoking white papers, speaking at industry events and judging top industry awards in Europe.