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Interactive Voice Response: Press 1 for the Power of Storytelling

Ever get caught in the seemingly infinite loop of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system? It can make the caller feel like they are living Dante’s Inferno. But IVR doesn’t have to be painful or frustrating for your customers.

In early November, we held our European Customer Communications Services (formerly Adeptra) Annual Conference at Grange Tower Bridge Hotel in London, where experts shared actionable ideas around energizing the customer experience.

One of our guest speakers was Nick Barre, from Podium and a communications coach. He presented on “The Power of Speech,” which focused on the key idea that the relationship with our customers begins with that first call. The customer connection is made by getting them to stay on the line, and then getting them to share information so that their issue can be resolved. He highlighted how different scripts and voices help illustrate how to adapt our communication with customers in order to achieve the best possible outcome, whether through IVR or a living, breathing call center agent.

Every call has its own story

Barre likened every call to telling a story because it involves directing your caller’s attention, shaping their emotional response, and influencing their actions. The competition can be any distraction that might steal their focus away from your message, which is why, at the end of the day, Barre says “you’ve got to be different and you’ve got to be better.”

The access point is in understanding every possible way to connect with the customer, right from the start. He gave us three tips:

  1. Learn from television: We’re all familiar with how reality TV shows in particular make high drama out of the mundane. The story is created out of the narration where the stage is set, and how human interactions can be changed from one thing to another just through clever editing. What Barre believes this ultimately does for us is raise our expectations for storytelling elsewhere in our lives including through IVR interactions. 
  2. Be succinct: Television also teaches us to edit ourselves to get the most succinct message across. Whether we’re being challenged to communicate within the limits of a 140 character tweet, present concepts and stories in an 18 minute video (as they do in TED talks), or sell our ideas in a product like an audio book, we must demonstrate economical storytelling. In the case of IVR you need to get to the point quickly.
  3. Develop a backstory:  For  those of us dealing with customer interaction on a daily basis through IVR, the exciting challenge that faces us is how to apply the art and science of storytelling to what we do. As a place to start, Barre suggests we think more deeply about the voices behind those calls. What’s their backstory? Who is the character that we want them to play? How can we make IVR more personable?

Barre reminds us that IVR is brilliant and effective because it allows us to control the process, and its performance relies on connection. Bringing the power of story into IVR will make the technological side of it that much more vibrant, vivid, and vital.


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