Unique Uses for IVR Systems


I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that everyone dislikes IVR phone systems.  When you call a company you want to talk to a real person, not be led through a bunch of menus that don’t answer your question…especially when you have to speak your answers and the system can’t interpret what you’re saying (or you’re in a public place and don’t want to look like a jackass).  However, in the past few weeks I’ve had two really positive experiences with IVR systems used in unique ways.

The first was two weeks ago when the power went out in my apartment on a Sunday afternoon.  The weather was fine, but a few minutes after it went out I heard fire sirens which is a surefire sign that it wasn’t something that would just be fixed in a minute or two.   I picked up the phone to call National Grid, my utilities company.  The IVR took a while to navigate through, but once I established that I was reporting an outage it did something really cool:  it asked me for my account number to report the outage and then played a message saying they already knew about the outage and that they estimated power would be back within 2 hours.  I thought it was pretty smart to just get my account number to link me to the address.  That’s something you definitely don’t need an operator for.  Even cooler, they called me back about five minutes after power returned with an automated message that said something like “power should be back on at your address, if it isn’t stay on the line and someone will assist you”.

The other experience was with Price Chopper, a local grocery store.  Price Chopper is about 300 feet from my apartment, so I do almost all of my grocery shopping there.  I have one of their “Advantage Cards”, which gives you access to sale prices (side note:  it’s a pretty cool business model, everything is fully priced, making it more expensive than other grocery stores, but if you utilize all of the huge savings that an Advantage Card offers you end up saving more).  Because I use the Advantage Card on every purchase, they have my purchase history.  It turns out that the Stonyfield Organic Yogurt that I buy was recalled last week.   So Price Chopper left me an automated voicemail saying that my yogurt had been recalled and that I should throw it out.  

There you have it.  Two pretty useful and potentially life saving uses of IVR systems.  I guess all IVRs aren’t completely evil…

5 comments on Unique Uses for IVR Systems

  1. nethy says:

    Interesting topic to bring up.

    I tend to think along the question: How do you know if it’s doing a good job. I mean, when customers constantly ask to speak to the manager, you know the gut answering the phone is doing something wrong.

    But how do you know, as the company, if your system is the kind that actually works (the kind so rare it gets a blog post) or the kind of system that is extremely annoying and calls you back to annoy you later.

    I think the fundamental problem with automated systems is not that they are inherently annoying. it’s that they can be set & forgotten. It’s n one’s job (at small places anyway) to make sure they work reasonable well.

  2. Nev says:

    “Here lays Adam McFarland. He died from bad yogurt.”

  3. Adam McFarland says:

    @Nev – Haha. In a world without IVR systems, that might be the case 🙂

    @Nethy – that’s true, it’s almost impossible to tell if they’re doing a good job in terms of helping the customer (even surveys after the call only do so much). As with anything though, as a biz owner you have to weigh the time saved vs the annoyance of the customer and figure out which is more important. I think companies use IVRs more out of necessity than desire. If most people can get what they want from the system, they may be slightly annoyed but their need will be met without the cost of interacting with an operator (who needs to be trained and may not provide as good of an answer as the IVR). It definitely goes both ways though.

  4. Dale says:

    Yeah, I had a good experience with my power company’s IVR system too… it’s more efficient, logs your data in real time. Then you can actually look up on their website how many people are out per county. It may not get the power back on faster, but the extra info soothes my nerves.

  5. Uttam Pegu says:

    Thank you for writing your good experiences of using IVR System.

    People dislike IVR System majorly because of its poor design, otherwise I believe IVRS is very useful.

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