The Interactive Voice Response Fallacy: It Doesn't Save Your Call Center Money

Tripp Babbitt

Call Center Problems? Technology to the rescue!

"We [tech firm] have Interactive Voice Response systems that are bigger and better than the rest! Our Interactive Voice Response systems will save your call center time and money! All call centers use Interactive Voice Response, you would be stupid not to use this technology!"

The conventional wisdom is the Interactive Voice Response! But we are in need of a shepherd, not sheep.

The Truth About Interactive Voice Response Technology

So why am I the one guy saying that the Interactive Voice Response is typically a waste of money and worse . . . a call center customer satisfaction killer? The Interactive Voice Response is really just a self service "sort and batch" front-end system built off of a functional design (scientific management theory).

This functional separation gives us tremendous opportunities to improve by replacing it by designing against demand. However, it would be wrong to simply turn-off the Interactive Voice Response system (similar to mistakes made by manufacturers in 1980s by stopping inspection when W. Edwards Deming said, "Cease reliance on inspection"). The Interactive Voice Response system was built on existing management paradigms regarding work with the aim to increase productivity. Human Facts International says that "shaving a second off the phone time could save call centers hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars a year" . . . all I can say is, stupid is as stupid does.

Moving Call Centers From a Productivity Mindset to a Systems Mindset

In a management paradox, this productivity mindset leads to the thought that saving time on the phone at call centers is the end game. It is not. To lower call center costs we have to change our thinking from a productivity mindset to a systems thinking one.

This includes understanding where call center costs come from to achieve business improvement and designing out the waste.

So, what should be done to achieve a better way of call center management?

Designing Out By Understanding of the Nature of Call Center Demand

This means an understanding of the type and frequency of demand on call centers from customers. This will lead to understanding demand as value (call center calls we want) and failure (call center calls we don't want), failure demand offers huge areas of possibilities for improvement and represents between 25 percent and 75 percent of all phone calls.

As opposed to the call center productivity mindset of reducing "a second from talk time" part of the redesign involves eliminating failure demand which represents a larger opportunity to improve. Over and over again I see call center management focus on the wrong measures, creating increased costs and customer dissatisfaction.

First published on the New Systems Thinking Blog.