Brett King

Bank IVR improvements: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

In Media, Retail Banking, Technology Innovation on March 5, 2010 at 08:15

IVR’s or Interactive Voice Response systems are for many customers the bane of our existence. There is nothing more dehumanizing than ringing a bank, airline, telephone company or service provider and having to navigate through a multitude of options that at best are confusing. Well all of that is about to change…

In the next few years IVR systems will integrate voice response. Already in some parts of the world voice recognition is starting to take hold with you using your voice to select menu options, say names of destinations, restaurants or businesses, etc to select the desired result. Today we are seeing more and more banks integrating voice recognition into their IVR systems—Citibank, Wells Fargo and HSBC, just to name a few. But let’s get this straight from the outset. Voice recognition rarely reduces cost on its own; it normally represents a nominal increase in cost. However, by the time we get this technology right, will we actually get cost improvements? In directory service utilisation and many booking systems, voice recognition has been shown to show reductions in total call times. In bank IVR systems, the gains are less certain.

IVR is a long-term viable solution for best practice. When customers can say what they need—for example,“help me with a payment” or “I’ve lost my credit card”—and we can respond appropriately, then not only will customer service perception rise positively, but bank costs will be reduced as calls get diverted quickly to exactly where customers need to go. Much of the problem with current IVR systems is purely that menu systems are not intuitive. More often than not, it appears like the IVR system is just a virtual menu representation of the bank organization structure and no one has actually thought of using this vehicle to help customers.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of IVR systems is that they take away the human element. When the bank IVR system responds in a more human fashion, then this perception will be reversed. This is undoubtedly where speech recognition is going over the next five to ten years, so the sooner banks get in on the action, learn the nuances of these systems and transition customers to the
new approach, the better.

A recent development in speech recognition, though, can immediately improve customer service levels. Imagine you are a customer with a complaint or an issue. You ring your bank only to get the dreaded IVR system. After having to navigate 16 levels of the IVR, you are hardly going to be in a better frame of mind to speak to a CSR and hear their possible solution. Yet this is what happens every day in most banks.

An angry customer dealing with an IVR system

IVR systems can make upset customers more angry

New technologies in voice recognition enable us to determine if a customer is angry or unhappy. Remember, tone of voice represents a very large part of our verbal communication capability. Thus, emotive voice recognition allows us to flag an unhappy customer and immediately transfer him to someone who is trained specifically to deal with such customers. It does this through the combination of four different types of Acoustic/Prosodic technologies, namely from Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Dialogue Manager (DM) and Context features.

Just a tip with this technology though. After the system detects the customer is upset, it would probably be better for the IVR not to say, “The system has detected that you are upset; we are transferring you to a highly trained specialist who is used to dealing with customers like you …”


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