Monday, February 4, 2008

"Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed..."

There's always some unnecessary verbiage in any IVR, but this little message seems to be the favorite. I've listened to some systems present this nugget for over a year without changing anything. It signals to me that no one is really minding the IVR store at whichever company I'm trying to get some service from.

When all IVRs were DTMF only the good ones enabled key ahead, the ability to press several keys in succession, without waiting for the prompt to play. Frequent callers to an IVR learned the keypress sequence to get them to their preferred transfer or function very quickly without having to listen to all the prompting. If the menu options changed, however, the speed dialers would up transferring to the wrong department, generating complaints back to the IVR manager. I think this was how the "menu options have changed..." phrase was born. The message may also reflect IVR managers' beliefs about why callers misroute. If the callers would only listen carefully to the options, the belief goes, then misroutes would be eliminated. It doesn't occur to some IVR managers that the prompting could be confusing or unclear. Thus, the phrase "please listen carefully."

Unfortunately, it's easier (process wise) to put phrases into IVRs than take them out. Power users, the ones who learn to key ahead, call frequently. And they don't listen to prompting. Playing the message for longer than a week is nearly useless, because the power users have already adjusted after a week, and it provides no information to occasional users. In speech systems it's even more useless, since you can leave the original menu grammars in place even if you change the prompting.

The message lives on, however, a legacy of another era and some magical thinking about how callers behave.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. To me, the most annoying thing about the "options have changed" phrase is that even when a company actually change their options, if they leave the message up indefinitely it ends up becoming a lie.

On a side note, I'm convinced that many companies now include this phrase from day one, in the vain hope that users will indeed "listen carefully." That's even less honest than leaving the message in place long after changes are made.

Grammar Nit-Picking:
"Unfortunately, it's easier (process wise) to put phrases into IVRs then take them out."
The word "then" in this sentence should be "than".

Anonymous said...

You know, I think it's even more insidious than the last poster stated, although perhaps this is exactly what he was alluding to when he pointed out that some companies put the "our menu options have [recently] changed" right up there from the beginning.

This idea, and the fact that newer systems, in spite of being, well, "newer", often don't support the type-ahead functionality of their predecessors, nor the old press-0-to-get-a-human trck (try that one with Capital One customer service), I think is part of an overall strategy by many companies to force callers away from utilizing carbon-based resources (e.g., humans).

Forcing you through the mechanized process ensures absolute compliance with established policy, removing the subjective element of human interpretation. i.e., the IVR can refuse to waive that fee all day, and really will never care how ridiculous or unfair it is, no matter how loud you yell nor how many times you press "0". An empathetic human being, on the other hand, is more likely to bend under pressure.

As an IT professional and technology enthusiast, I like the concepts of automated banking services and the like afforded by IVR technology, but I cease to appreciate them when the technology moves away from being a convenience for ME and moves instead toward becoming a convenient way for businesses to dismiss me as a customer, or de-humanize the process.

Star Trek fans might appreciate the reference to "The Ultimate Computer" when I point out that I, as Mr Spock said, find computers to be excellent servants, but I have no desire to serve UNDER them. I am becoming gravely concerned that we are not good stewards of the technologies we develop and implement. If those of us who are really capable of understanding these technologies, and the potential ramifications their implementations may represent, don't make the stand to establish some reasonable boundaries with respect to their implementation, we're liable to find ourselves one day confined to a world where we are literally ruled by the ruthless objectivity and relentless logic of machines.