10 Ways Your Automated Phone Menu Can Engage — Instead of Enrage — Customers

Mightycall Team
Mightycall Team
1 September 2015 Business Insights

Not interested in growing your business? Don’t really want to offer an excellent customer experience? Cool. Just create a laborious, tedious, maze-like automated phone menu that leads callers absolutely nowhere, or at a minimum, tries their patience.

Plenty of companies do it. Health insurance companies in the U.S. can be among the worst offenders. You call, go through the various prompts to have your call routed to the appropriate department, punch in your member ID and date of birth. And only then are you told that it’s after hours, so no one is available to take your call. You’ve just navigated the voicemail menu for absolutely no reason. But please call back during normal business hours — so you can jump through the hoops all over again.

Other companies may also ask you, before routing your call, to identify yourself with your account number, date of birth, perhaps even your mother’s maiden name. Once an agent finally answers your call, he or she asks for — you guessed it — your account number, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name. It’s “for your security,” of course.

Oh, and don’t forget to leave your customers on hold for a really, really long time. And to play a continual loop of irritating music, so they can’t concentrate on something else — like catching up on email — during the 80 years they must wait to speak to someone. Want to really enrage your customers? Make them navigate all sorts of voice menu buttons, then give them a busy signal. Or just disconnect them when they’ve completed the maze.

Sadly, all of the above happens way too often, and consumers are sick of it. A July 2015 Consumer Reports survey found that 75 percent of respondents were “highly annoyed” when they couldn’t reach an actual person on the phone. Among top annoyances: “(toll-free) numbers with overly complex automated response menus, agents with limited decision-making authority, and understaffed call centers.” Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents reported being “so steamed that they hung up the phone without a resolution.”

Sending callers to voicemail isn’t the solution, either. According to Forbes, 80 percent of callers who end up in voicemail don’t leave a message. Millennials, a demographic growing in economic clout, roll their eyes at voicemail. The idea of leaving a voicemail message is “as obsolete as swing-dancing and playing NHL ’94 on Sega Genesis” to Millennials, The New York Times reports.

So if you actually want to grow your business, you must provide an excellent customer experience. Frequently, that begins with your phone menu system. In fact, 80 percent of Consumer Reports’ survey respondents said they still prefer to contact companies by phone with an issue or question.

And yet, many companies hide their call center agents behind complicated phone trees. Why? Because call center agents can be expensive and aren’t necessarily seen as direct contributors to the company’s bottom line. But look at it this way: An angry customer has a funny habit of transforming into a former customer. And it costs between four and 10 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.

Here’s a to-do checklist to ensure your automated phone menu system helps your customers, instead of infurates them.

Keep your phone menu system simple

Don’t make callers listen to a long recording with tons of options, such as “Press one for this department, Press two for that department,” and so on. Try to keep it to three to five options. Once a caller makes a choice, you might present them with a secondary menu, to help route their call more efficiently. Here again, keep it simple. Don’t make a caller listen to, say, eight or nine voice menu options, only to listen to another eight or nine choices after making a selection. And try to present callers with no more than two menu levels.

Give callers an easy way to connect to an operator

Want to really stand out? Make speaking to a live operator the first option on your phone menu. Truth is, that’s what most people want anyway — to speak to a human being. Giving them that option right away might make your call center agents busier, but it’s bound to make your customers happier, too.

Use caller ID to route callers intelligently

Caller ID lets your phone system recognize who’s calling. This means you could give existing customers one menu and unknown callers a different one. For example, your phone menu could give existing customers the chance to speak to the account manager they’ve talked to previously.

Make your phone menu sound professional

Larger companies sometimes hire professional voiceover artists to record their outbound greeting and phone menu options. Smaller companies could find someone within the company who has a soothing, professional-sounding voice. You might use both a female and male voice and mix them up, too. Perhaps the female voice is heard first when someone calls and the male voice is heard after making the first menu selection, or vice versa. By mixing it up, you’ll keep callers interested and engaged.

Some tips for a successful, professional-sounding phone menu:

  • Match your tone to your brand. If your company imports and sells British goods, have a Brit record your phone greeting and menu options. If you sell surfboards, sound like a surfer, dude.
  • Be friendly, relaxed, and authentic.
  • Speak in a soothing tone.
  • Eliminate background noise.
  • If necessary, write a script and have the person practice it.

For more, see seven Best Business Voicemail Greetings.

Be a little different

Most of us hear the usual “Press one for this, Press two for that” drill too often. Is there a way you can make your phone menu a little more creative, especially if it matches your brand? For example, you might consider using just a touch of humor — but ONLY if it fits your brand, is actually funny, and in no way causes callers to spend more time listening to your recordings and menus. Otherwise, it’s a sure turn off.

Regularly analyze callers’ behavior and adjust your phone menu accordingly

Just as Google Analytics can help you improve the effectiveness of your website, your small business phone system’s analytics can help you better understand which menu options are chosen most frequently, among other things. With that information, you can update your phone menu to improve the callers’ experience. For example, if you learn that a majority of callers press option no. four to speak with someone in customer support, then consider making that option no. one.

Know how you will measure your phone menu’s success

What is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for your phone menu? Is it to reduce operating costs or increase sales? Determine what your top business goals are for your phone menu and then use your analytics to measure how well (or not) you’re meeting those goals.

Alert customers to important updates

If you’re a service company and there’s currently an outage in your service, update your phone menu to let callers know up front. Tell them you’re aware of the outage and are working to resolve it, then give them an option to speak to an agent.

Know your customer personas

When creating your automated phone menu, keep in mind your buyer personas. Who are your customers? What do they typically want when calling you? If you design your phone menu with that in mind, you’re more likely to give callers a positive experience when they call.

For more about buyer personas, read Top nine Business Benefits of a Call Recording Solution.

Use your phone menu to keep callers from going to voicemail

As previously mentioned, most people calling a business will hang up if they get sent to voicemail. Often, this is because they don’t trust the company to call them back in a timely manner, or at all. Voicemail is also a huge productivity drain for workers. In fact, some major companies such as Coca-Cola and JP Morgan have all but eliminated landline voicemail boxes for their employees.

Ultimately, if a prospect calls but gets frustrated by your phone menu or ends up in voicemail, he or she may call your competitor next. So above all, build your phone menu to route calls intelligently in order to increase the likelihood that calls will be answered promptly — and by someone knowledgeable. At a time when customers are increasingly demanding better service, your phone menu has never been more important.

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