Web Call-Backs: Bridge to the Future or Relic of the Past

Call Center | 4 minute read

Visual IVRThe IVR experience (“press 1 for this… press 2 for that…”) has long been part of the contact center. It serves an important – if disliked – role as part of the process. Specifically, the jobs performed by the IVR include routing (determining the kind of agent the caller needs), authentication (establishing the caller’s identity) and, sometimes, gathering caller information.

These jobs, in themselves, are beneficial to both sides. While many callers complain about being forced to interact with “a machine”, that’s still much better than getting to the wrong kind of agent and then being transferred. And getting authentication out of the way before the agent conversation saves time for both parties. What many prognosticators miss when discussing an idyllic future of customer service is that these jobs are not going away.

The real challenge is to find a way to do these jobs in a way that is less frustrating for users. One answer to that question is “Web Call-Backs” (formerly Visual IVR), a technology that has many successes under its belt. But detractors think this concept is a “stop-gap” measure that will soon be left behind.

What’s wrong with the way things are?

People have disliked IVRs from “day one”. As far back as we look, data shows that the technology has never been liked. According to a Consumer Reports study, “too many phone steps needed” is the 2nd most common complaint from people. (Only “Can’t get a human” ranks higher.)


Top Gripes


In recent years, consumer tolerance for negative customer experiences has gotten even lower. A recent study found that 76% of consumers say “just one unpleasant contact center experience is likely to make me take my business elsewhere.”

The bottom line is that companies feel a new urgency to remove sources of frustration from the customer experience process. It’s not surprising that IVR is on the firing line.

Updating an Old Concept

The traditional “press 1 for this…” interaction suffers from two big constraints inherent in its design: 1) Audio is a poor way to listen to long and numerous options and 2) the numeric keypad is a poor system for data entry and navigation.

Luckily, the two platforms that have become dominant in customer service: web and mobile, are both ideal for moving past these constraints. The key is that those channels provide a visual interface. Thus, a company can present the options to the caller on a screen and allow a click or a tap to make the selection, which is less “cognitively challenging” than listening to options.Visual IVR

Web Call-Backs on Trial

Here’s what critics of Web Call-Backs say:

  • It perpetuates bad habits from the past onto new channels.
  • Customer experiences should be designed for the strengths and weaknesses of the new channels, and not based on extending the lifespan of obsolete technology.

Let’s address each of these.

The first point is absolutely true. Blindly converting an existing IVR to a web or mobile interface would not result in a very good interface. But I think this is a straw man argument. I haven’t yet seen a company that doesn’t give some thought to reworking the IVR during the process of rolling out Web Call-Backs.

For the second point, critics point to examples of companies that are leading the charge with cutting edge customer service technology: Amazon with Mayday, AmEx with their CafeX project, USAA with mobile biometrics. These projects leave Web Call-Backs in the dust and are indeed inspiring. They remind me of the William Gibson quote: “The future has already arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

USAA mobile

But while it’s terrific that we have some companies that are able to lead the charge with new customer service technology, it’s important to recognize that in the VAST majority of companies, the call center department lives in a much more constrained world. They don’t have the budget or ambition to take on any kind of R&D effort. They have appetite — at best — for bite-sized, risk-free, low-cost solutions.

It’s a totally viable (and exciting!) business model to design stuff for the AmEx’s and USAA’s of the world. We obviously need people pushing on that envelope. But there is a separate, and equally important, challenge around helping the other 99%. If the only solution offered to companies is a large scale project, many will simply never find room in the budget or schedule.

An Incremental Approach Wins the Day

I feel that it is important to have an incremental approach on the market, and that’s been our philosophy at Fonolo. Web Call-Backs have always been part of our cloud-based call-back solution. This system is unique in that it provides self-contained components that can be dropped into a web site or mobile app very quickly, making the deployment quite easy.

Visual IVR for Mobile Apps

Here is a video case study of a credit union that used Fonolo’s Web Rescue and Mobile Rescue to help improve engagement with younger consumers:

If your company wants to take a step forward with your customer service technology, but without major retooling, or lengthy integration work, we invite you to take a look at what Fonolo can do.

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