Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Design and the Call Center: A Travelocity Story

Jenni McKienzie
Posted: 09/21/2009

Voice interaction designers and the call center need to engage in more communication. In the typical process for designing and deploying a new Interactive Voice Recognition application, the designer will sit with call center representatives taking calls and meet with the call center representatives in small groups to learn more about why customers are calling and what language the call center representatives should use.

But most interactive voice designs are done by outside vendors, and it goes no further. An ongoing dialogue between call center representatives and interactive voice designers, or whomever is maintaining a system, can do wonders for that system.

The Travelocity Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Case Study

Let me start with a concrete example. For years, here at Travelocity, we have offered customers the option to get another copy of their confirmation e-mail, and it was chosen with some regularity. However, it recently came to my attention that one of the big call drivers in the call center was for copies of the receipt. The e-mail we send has both the itinerary and the pricing information, so they are one and the same thing. The Interactive Voice Response was not conveying this to the callers.

They thought they had to go to a call center representative to get something that was already automated in the Interactive Voice Response. Only because the call center came to me with this piece of information did I know we had a problem at Travelocity. We came up with four different ways to word the prompt, ran them simultaneously, looked at the data, and chose the wording that conveyed both actions to the caller and resulted in more calls being served in the Interactive Voice Response.

Interactive Voice Design (IVR) and Call Center Collaboration

This communication between the call center and the keepers of the Interactive Voice Response is imperative. Each group brings a different set of skills to the table. Interactive Voice Designers know a lot about what will work and what will not stemming from many different areas: conversational maxims like turn-taking and discourse markers, acoustical considerations for prompt choices, presenting information in a linear fashion cognizant of memory limitations, and both the extent and limitations of the technology to name just a few. But call center representatives in the call center talk to real customers on a daily basis, and there’s no substitute for that knowledge base.

Idea Creation Between the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Designer and the Call Center

On the flip side, as a voice interactive designer, I’ve sometimes had ideas from call centers that I’ve had to reject. I always do my best to explain the "why" behind it and let them know I value the call center’s input. I don’t want to cut the call center off by discouraging the feedback from the call center representatives. An example at Travelocity is that in the Interactive Voice Response we tell people that for booking flights over the phone instead of on the web there is an additional fee of X dollars per passenger (which has changed over time).

In reality, it maxes out at three passengers. So if a family of four is traveling, they get charged three(X), not four(X). I’ve had people complain that we’re not being exact and should change that. But there are several good reasons not to. First, the vast majority of bookings are for single passengers. It won’t apply in most cases. Second, it gets a little complicated. It’s like reading fine print, only because it’s delivered over the phone there’s no way to go back and re-read it. Third, if it applies to the customer, the customer will actually be charged less than what we at Travelocity said, which should make the customer happy.

It’s one of those cases where it would do more harm than good. We would confuse a whole lot of customers in the interest of being 100 percent accurate. This is one of those things that a call center representative is far better equipped to explain than the Interactive Voice Response.

And that’s it in a nutshell. Call center representatives have certain pieces of information and call center representatives are good at certain things. Interactive Voice Designers have other information and Interactive Voice Designers are good at other things. In working together, the customer gets a better experience all around.

First published on Call Center IQ.

Jenni McKienzie
Posted: 09/21/2009

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