It's been a busy and enjoyable week meeting with members to finalise our programme for 2017, and making sure we have captured all the current hot topics. There's been a sense of 'deja vu' too, issues that used to dominate the agenda 10 years ago are enjoying a renaissance with a modern twist.

Sharing experience around digital journey progress is still up there for 2017 together with ongoing curiosity about the role of artificial intelligence in customer service. The shift towards recruiting and training higher skilled problem solving workers, greater role differentiation and new leadership styles also feature high on the list, but surprisingly there is also a call to re-examine the best practice around old technologies like IVR or 'press button 1 for ..' systems; a topic many of us thought we had left behind some time ago.

What's clear is that there is still significant customer frustration arising from navigating menus which seem to offer everything except what is actually being asked for.

Whilst there are fantastic examples of customers being automatically routed to the correct destination through recognition of caller numbers, and/or front end account identification and verification, there are still too many outdated, clumsy menus on show. From a brand perspective, this showcases a disjointed organisation and its internal deficiencies, rather than sensing and responding to what customers are experiencing, hardly a desirable image.

Frustrating sales messages and continual nudges to go online (wouldn't you be there if you could?) are symptomatic of organisations who have too much to say and can't resist the temptation of filling in every gap with what they would like you to hear. Wouldn't it be refreshing to use that space with helpful messages, perhaps a reminder about security risks, tips about passwords and pins, and how to protect ourselves against fraud.

One explanation as to why we are still putting up with outmoded systems is a misguided belief that we are further ahead with call volume reduction than is actually the case; in other words; it's not worth the investment as we will soon be totally self-serve.

IVR menus have always been a source of dread and discontent for customers, but perhaps more so today because the 'clunkiness' is in such stark contrast to our fast paced touchscreen world, where we are in total control, versus a sense of helplessness at the mercy of seemingly endless irrelevant options. 

I've come into contact with a few poor services during the last few weeks, mostly as a result of an app failing or trying to resolve a problem where there was no other alternative. My sense is that there needs to be a renewed effort in explaining and simplifying access to services with clear information about what's on offer in terms of service options; how to get in touch regardless of the channel. After all it's the first moment of truth - or not. Hiding information is counter-productive; by the time a customer presents they will be riled if they've had to resort to a third party source to find a phone number, or spend too long trying to fight their way into your organisation. 

It's time for a renewed authenticity, simple guidelines as to how to access a service, followed up by helpful systems aimed at getting you to the service you need as quickly as possible.

I'm looking forward to dusting down some of the old guidelines from bygone years - I suspect there's some valuable insight in raking over those old chestnuts with fresh eyes.

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