The Rise Of Those Annoying Talking Robots

Chances are you’ve found yourself trying to book a flight,  refill a prescription, or rent a car — or do hundreds of other basic daily tasks that now point you to a phone call.

If so, you’ve encountered IVR: an interactive voice response robot.

Has "higher than normal call volumes" become the new normal? The simple answer is yes.

And the wall of electronic options being put between you and a human is getting harder to climb over, leading to massive frustration.

"Part of the reason automated speech recognition platforms are so disliked is that consumers must repeat themselves often when using them,” according to a post on The Conversation discussing a Boston University study.

In the survey, 75% of respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that IVRs forced them to listen to irrelevant options. And similar percentages thought IVRs present choices that lead nowhere and so achieve nothing.



Ah yes, the endless tree of irrelevant options.

Are you wondering, “Can’t they fix this?” The answer is, they can, but they don’t want to. And there’s a strategic reason for this choice.

"In a recent survey of customer-care executives, 57 percent of executives consider call reduction their number-one priority for the next five years,” research company McKinsey reports, in the post “Why your call center is only getting noisier.”

So that means companies making their online offerings better, and their call-center response times and phone trees worse, isn’t an accident. It’s a strategy.

There’s one primary reason you experience the annoying "can I have your account number?” question from agents after entering that information in the automated system.

The almost daily roll-up of companies buying technology firms is front-page news. But behind the scenes, after the logo is updated, and a company is acquired, the difficult integration of legacy systems, old databases, and data sets that don’t align often leave human call center operators asking for, and retyping, your name, member number, date of birth, and other identifying information multiple times. Customer result: frustration and unhappiness.

So, for example, if you call Aetna as your health insurance provider, you may be shuttled to a series of other companies for eye care, pharmacy, or medical insurance. Each of them will present themselves as Aetna, but you’ll quickly find they don’t have access to the same patient data or history. It’s not the operator's fault; they’re just not able to read what the previous operator wrote in their records. So you have to start over.

What’s on the horizon? The technology-focused executives will tell you that better voice recognition and coming AI will replace human interactions for all but the most complex calls. But other customer-care executives see increased consumer satisfaction coming from a seamless mix of solutions-oriented software answering basic questions like “Is my flight on time?” and high-quality human engagement for queries like “I need help understanding my new insurance benefits.”  

Simply put: answered programmatic questions with software-driven answers, and complex or human questions with well-trained and fairly tracked call center employees.

Will robots solve the call center backup? Certainly not. But getting customers to information and solutions faster is on the horizon — even as call volume increases.

2 comments about "The Rise Of Those Annoying Talking Robots".
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  1. steven rosenbaum from, January 30, 2018 at 12:11 p.m.

    Do you mean 'a letter' ie: print on a page with a stamp, or an email? More and more providers arent' accepting emails, they want you to fill out a form.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, January 30, 2018 at 3:47 p.m.

    Handwrite with a pen on paper and use a stamp. You care. It is important.

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