My wife called Bank of America (used to be Countrywide) to make the last payment on our home and needed the payoff amount and arrange to be sure the correct payment was submitted (timing).  She was taken through an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system that asked general questions:

  • Are you an existing customer?
  • Account Number (and annoyingly repeated by the voice)
  • Last 4 digits of Social Security# (she put in hers and they had mine even though the mortgage was in both our names)
  • Description of Issue (she explained the issue as best she could to the IVR system and it kept trying to give her options that did not fit the request)

She then requested to speak to a representative and the IVR told her it would take longer and that it was best suited to answer her question.  Can you imagine a machine telling you how to handle your problem with its standardized responses!

She insisted on a representative and was put through after a less than 2 minute wait.  Where she had to give out the same information to the “human” that she just gave to the IVR.  In another 2 minutes, the issue was resolved by the service rep.  Total time 15 minutes, 11 with the IVR, 2 minutes on hold and 2 minutes with the service representative.

Command and control thinkers only focus on costs, thinking somehow this system is saving them money.  No option out to speak to a service representative without arguing with a machine is simply . . . stupid.  The costs are “unknown and unknowable” as Dr. Deming would say.  However, they are there all the same.

A better customer management process would be to study demand before implementing an IVR and understanding that a customer doesn’t want to listen to an IVR for 11 minutes or  . . . argue with it.  They would understand that call center management could reduce calls by understanding and eliminating failure demand (problems, follow-ups, etc.) that represents between 40 and 75% of the call volume.

Bank of America, you inherited this system . . . now tear down that IVR!

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control management and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at