It is ironic that perhaps the biggest single failure in marketing is also the biggest single customer touchpoint for any company: their phone system. Ever since Alexander Graham Bell’s exclamation of "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you" morphed into "Mr. Watson, press 1 for English," automated phone systems have been the source of endless dissatisfaction for consumers. Phoning a company prompts such dread among consumers that they'll do anything to avoid it; in fact, a new survey shows that an increasing number of customers will seek out Web chats or other social media channels to contact a company before they will resort to a phone call. Who can blame them? The problem is that the technology for automating response to customer queries has vastly outstripped the wisdom of how to use it. For most businesses, the phone is still the lifeline to customers. Yet automated phone systems and even live representatives have gotten worse, or have not improved, over the past 10 years. Should it surprise anyone that customers are abandoning brands that don't pay attention to this key CRM touchpoint? But customers are doing more than that. They are sharing their displeasure with friends and family. Word of mouth has always spread customer dissatisfaction like wildfire and the Web multiplies that exponentially. We have long since reached the tipping point for IVRs (interactive voice response systems). The price of keeping that old automated phone technology in place is the loss of customer loyalty. In fact, 83% of consumers run screaming from companies that feature poor automated voice systems. Customers are understandably frustrated with these systems and many customers view them as getting worse over time. From a consumer's perspective these systems simply don't work well. Technology limitations are at the heart of the problem. As much as speech recognition is advancing, it is still a major source of frustration for consumers. Most of the time, consumers can't accomplish their tasks using these systems, and they waste both time and effort. Customers have become proficient at identifying companies that give them the choice, flexibility, and responsiveness they demand. While much progress has been made in customer self-service, such as Web site chat, social media, and mobile apps, there is still a need for a live agent. That is, someone who is not only accessible but knows how to solve a problem. While every marketer knows it is 10 times easier to keep a current customer than to win a new one, the message a poor IVR communicates is a lack of customer care. To fix the pothole that exists where good customer phone service used to be, marketers need to: • Recognize the impact and importance their automated voice system has on overall customer satisfaction and loyalty • Seek out technologies and approaches that make these systems easier and more effective for customers • Analyze, measure, and tune these systems to continually improve their performance Marketers need to bring phone systems into their sights. IVRs put a voice to your company. Customers are saying that it's important for any company they do business with to have an excellent IVR. No longer necessary evils, they provide opportunities for building an excellent customer relationship.