Businesses today treat interactive voice response (IVR) and chatbots for customer service like any other IT project: gather requirements, define solution architecture, choose vendor, purchase platform, install/configure platform (the latter is still needed, even in the SaaS model), build IVR scripts on platform, test, deploy, end of project. If they're smart, they throw in a tuning phase after go-live, and add historical reporting to oversee the performance.

I believe it's time to throw out this model and adapt a radically different mindset. 

From an IT Project to an ... HR Project?

IVR and chatbots are applications of artificial intelligence: the attempt at simulating human behavior, in this case having a conversation. IVR systems do a job that has been done by agents before: be the first line of defense, take that initial call, determine what the customer needs, route them to the answer which comes in the form of either an agent with the right skillset, or a direct answer from a database, a CRM or FAQ system. 

Chatbots will do the same going forward. But if they do the job of the human, what if we considered them an employee like our agents, just in “digital form”? What if we thought of deploying a new IVR system the same way we thought of hiring a new employee? What if we even went so far as to give that new hire a name? Let’s decide for a female persona, and let’s call her Ivy.

All of a sudden you realize the steps to bring an IVR or a chatbot system to life are very similar to bringing a new hire up to speed:


Digital Employee

Gather requirements before deciding on needing new technology

Gather requirements before deciding on needing new staff

Define solution architecture

Define job description

Choose platform vendor

Choose vendor that will help with onboarding

Install/configure platform

Get familiar with onboarding approach of selected vendor

Build IVR scripts

Teach digital employee the basics of your business

Test scripts

Expose digital employee to internal “customers” to validate their initial performance

Deploy scripts

Ready them to take the first call/chat

Tune scripts

Train them on new questions, or change and improve their responses to existing questions

Review performance reports

Review performance reports

If you don’t consider IVR a piece of technology, but instead as a new hire, you have the opportunity to completely rethink the job of the IVR or chatbot. And by doing so, create new processes that allow you to constantly improve the digital employee, ultimately overcoming most if not all annoyances customers have had with IVR.

Related Article: The Enterprise Chatbot: Your Future Coworker?

Comparing 'Digital Employees' to Human

While the initial investment to do so seems high — and it certainly is higher than the training needed for a new human hire, as the human employee brings basic intelligence, speech abilities and conversational skills, with them — there are clear benefits of a digital employee:

Human Employee

Digital Employee

Can get sick, be in bad mood

Never gets sick, never in bad mood

Can leave

Never leaves

Every new hire needs to be trained from scratch

Only a new hire once

Only works certain hours a day, needs vacation

Works 24/7/365

Demands pay raises over time

Maintenance costs decrease over time

Makes mistakes, produces inconsistent work

Doesn’t make mistakes

Takes minutes to respond to a call, chat, email

Takes seconds

Does this mean that we can get rid of humans altogether? Of course not. Not even long term. Digital employees can only handle basic inquiries, humans are needed to address more complex needs. Furthermore, digital employees will never be able to empathize with a customer, apply judgement, creative problem solving, etc. 

Learning Opportunities

Of all the tasks in the contact center, you will want to find the “digital comfort level” of your organization: which tasks would you comfortably hand over to a digital employee, and which would you rather keep with your human employees:

types of work

Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find

The Benefits of Treating IVR and Chatbots as New Hires

Rethinking your approach to IVR and bots this way fundamentally changes what self-service technology can do for you, what value you assign it in your organization, where you place it in the spectrum of customer service tools at your disposal, and what value it can provide to you in terms of customer experience improvements, cost savings, revenue increases and more.

The digital employee should be managed like any other human resource in the contact center: by your workforce manager. It will then naturally be considered in staff planning and forecasting, in performance reviews, in hiring situations, etc. Ivy should get a seat at the table when making staffing decisions. Adding her to your staff will also start an interesting dynamic within your team: your agents will suggest which simple inquiries (“what’s my balance,” “where is my order,” “what’s the status of my claim,” etc.) or data collection steps (“next, please provide the last four digits of your social security number …”) would be right for Ivy to handle. Research shows that agents will feel more empowered, more valued and feel like they can have a bigger impact on your company when all of this happens.

By making your digital employee more of a first-class citizen, you can reap the benefits this technology brings to a much larger extent: cost savings through its automation potential, CX improvements through its consistent 24/7 performance, its constant rise in accuracy and more. IVR and chatbot software will need to make it even easier than before to bring this vision to life. With the raised appetite for self-service technologies with consumers, and the willingness to embrace this new type of coworker, the time is now to rethink your IVR and chatbot projects.

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