Sound Communication: The Holdcom Blog

Live Agents Or Automated Attendant?

The term 'Live Agents' has replaced the traditional "receptionist".  Not too long ago most businesses answered calls live during "normal" business hours. So much has changed in how we work and live and communicate, I’m not sure what is considered normal.  Today customers expect 24/7, 365 support from any channel possible. In order to keep pace with customer demand auto-attendants are used everywhere - even local pizza shops.  Once considered a tool for big businesses, auto-attendants and IVR are available in just about every phone system sold. But which is better?  Answering the call with a live representative or having all calls go through a menu of options?

How your organization chooses to answer calls is a direct extension of your brand and culture. High touch/high customer service brands would never want their callers navigating through menu choices.  Brands with very distinct caller profiles would be well served utilizing an IVR to process and route calls to proper agents, departments or information.  Below we compare some pros and cons of Human vs Machine.  ThinkstockPhotos-BU001098_1.jpg

Human
In recent years, answering the phone with a live representative has become a point of differentiation amongst competitors.  Websites, apps and marketing campaigns are centered around how to get to a live agent

Everyone likes to talk to a person.  We believe when speaking with a human we'll be able to explain our problem and they will resolve it.  How many times have you told your story to the representative who answered the call only to have to repeat it, again and again as the call gets escalated?  Not an ideal caller experience.

Answering calls live allows the brand to inject personality and company culture into the interaction.  How many times have you called a company and wanted to suggest to the representative to quit their job, because they sound so unhappy?  Great training and coaching will ensure a consistent approach, but without it you could be losing business.

We've all experienced wonderful customer service.  That instant connection and friendliness the agent has in their voice, the ability to work in pleasant small talk, or pull bits of info from your profile to make the perfect suggestions.  Almost as if you're in a mind meld.  That's an experience that can’t (yet) be duplicated by an automated system, but it does come at a premium cost in salary and training.

Machine
When we call to resolve a problem we ALL feel our situation is unique.  Which may be true, but chances are we fill a segment; canceling service, need repair or return, add/change service. Segmenting is how IVR's are built.  For example, eighty percent of calls will fit into 3 or 4 buckets and the remaining are routed to additional filtering or an agent. Too often, brands don't optimize their IVR, making the choices unclear or outdated.  Worse than unclear IVRs, are companies who offer so many options you don't know which to choose creating a poor caller experience. Automated attendants unlike their Human counter parts are very consistent.  No matter the time of day or the day of the week, you'll be greeted the same, every time.  Companies who utilize professional recordings correctly are creating an excellent customer experience. 

The additional cost of adding IVR to your phone system has been greatly reduced as technology is now prevalent across all makes and models of phone systems. The proliferation of hosted phone systems and their easy to manage portals allow any size business to take advantage of the technology.  Hosted phone systems do still require someone from your IT department to manage and update.  

Conclusion
Both solutions offer pros and cons and neither is perfect by itself.  No matter which solution you choose, careful planning and execution will make or break your approach.  Each solution requires ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Just because an automated attendant may be cheaper doesn't mean it's the right solution.  If a majority of your calls are complicated or detailed in nature - answering calls live may be more efficient.  If your caller demographic is younger, an auto attendant may be preferred.  Just as an older clientele will be better served by live agents.

Taking the time to understand your callers and review the traffic patterns of your calls, such as peak call times, will help you to understand how to map out a successful strategy.  A hybrid solution which utilizes both live representatives and auto attendant, may be a great compromise. Having agents to cover your daily call volume and utilizing an auto attendant for peak times creates a positive caller experience.  

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Tags: IVR, Auto attendant, live agent