IVR Primer

I would like to begin my posts with a discussion of our IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system. For those not aware this is the “phone tree” or automated phone system that you have the choice to interact with whenever you call the Go Line (474-1200) or the STS information and reservation numbers. For the more astute readers out there the choice is not really a choice when calling after hours as the manned phone lines only offer automated options when no one is around.

To understand IVR’s one needs to understand the nature of call centers. IVR’s were invented to try to deal with the explosive growth of inbound calls that companies experience as their customer base grows without increasing call center staffing in a linear fashion. Many calls are common and request simple information that can be easily automated. The theory is that if you can answer these simple questions with an automated system, then you will need fewer people to respond to the types of questions that only a human can handle (and thereby lower the cost associated with customer or business growth). The problem comes when more complex questions are pushed to the IVR’s and/or the callers come to prefer the IVR and thus depend on it to answer more complex questions. The result in either case is a frustrated caller and a potentially lost rider. Like most things in life, the trick is in finding the balance between the purpose for which IVR’s were built, and the need to handle more calls on a daily basis.

For example, when a rider calls in to find out what hours the customer service line is automated, an IVR can and should handle this type of call. But when a rider calls in to find out how to get from Downtown to Highland mall in the shortest time possible, an IVR will not do a good job of handling this question (a lot of human judgment and discretion is required which an IVR just can’t muster). So why do I mention all of this? The simple answer is that the Capital Metro IVR is not currently meeting our rider’s expectations at the level we would like. What I hope to go into over the next few posts is why this is the case, and more importantly, what Capital Metro is doing about the situation.

Kirk Talbott
CIO – Capital Metro

3 thoughts on “IVR Primer

  1. M1EK

    In my experience, the IVR is not functioning well even as designed – i.e. when I call in on my cell phone to try to get stop times, it often takes 4 or 5 attempts to get the system to recognize what I’m saying, and I know how to enunciate quite well. (I’ve had times where I’ve never been able to get it to recognize anything).

    A fallback to a number-based system would be an excellent addition, since the voice recognition is so poor. Obviously it could not work for free-form cases, but at a bare minimum you could eliminate SOME frustration (very easy to implement the menu parts of the system with numbers; possible but more difficult for the free-form questions like street names – look at commercial office systems that allow you to attempt to enter the first few letters of an employee’s last name, for instance).

  2. Don Dickson

    The system is working better now than it did originally. I was infuriated by my early experiences with it. It literally did not understand “English.” I would have to say “English” three or four times before it recognized the word. And then it sent me off to a menu that was totally frustrating. I gave up using it for a while.

    It’s better now….just say “Customer Service” and you get a human being on the phone.

  3. Kirk Talbott

    You have seen the “future”. I hope to blog about the path we are going to take to improve the IVR in the next few days, but the idea of putting in touch tones everywhere that we can is what we hope to pull off in the near future. There is a place for speech recognition and there is a place for touch-tone. Our plan is to fine tune the usage and give everyone as much flexibility as we can. In addition when we find the speech errors that Don alluded to, we are trying to fix them (our frustration is the amount of time it takes to fix the little problems).

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