Interactive Voice Response

What does IVR containment rate mean? How can you improve it?

By Mike BanbrookOctober 25, 2021

Every minute your agents spend on the phone comes at a cost to your business, so it’s not hard to understand why many call centres invest in more automated IVR systems to reduce the time agents spend on the phone – which is where containment rates come into play.

The term “containment rate” is becoming increasingly common in modern call centre vernacular because it refers to the effectiveness of your IVR system in resolving calls without the need for an agent. For example, if 70 out of every 100 callers manage to access the information they need or successfully self-serve within your IVR system, while the remaining 30 request to speak to an agent, then your containment rate would be 70%.

There is no simple answer to the question of what a good containment rate is, except to say that a call centre with a containment rate of 80% will cost less to run than one with a containment rate of 70% because there is less work for your agents to do. And there are many things that can have an impact on whether your callers stay within your IVR system from the beginning to end of their call.

Unclear speech, too much upfront information, and confusing or convoluted menu options are some of the most common factors that cause callers to drop out of the IVR and request an agent – irrespective of whether your IVR is actually capable of resolving the call.

Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can implement to minimise those feelings of frustration, impatience, and despondency among callers which are the biggest killers when it comes to optimising containment rates. Importantly, research suggests that improving IVR containment rates by 5% to 20% can contribute to reducing call centre costs by as much as 10% to 30%, so any steps you take are likely to yield a solid return.

AI enhanced IVR

One of the most frustrating experiences for call centre customers is spending time being routed through various menu options, only to end up feeling like they’ve reached a dead end. In this all-too-common scenario, your customers will request to speak to an agent which not only costs your call centre money but creates a tough challenge for your agents converting a poor experience into a positive one.

Implementing AI powered speech recognition creates a more natural and conversational experience for your customers even though they’re not speaking with a real agent. Automatic AI speech recognition means customers have the freedom to articulate queries in their own way with confidence that the IVR will instantly recognise their intent, ask the right questions, and offer the solution they need in real time – so there’s really no motivation to drop out. Using open questions that flow rather than a sequential menu creates the impression of meaningful progress for the caller – questions that make sense rather than an ever increasing list of menu options.

IVR personalisation

By creating a more personalised experience on the phone, you have the potential to streamline the IVR process for your individual customers while also offering more tailored resolutions automatically. A critical component to personalisation is identification of the caller – you need to know who you are talking to so you can truly personalise their service. Biometric voice recognition technology is an ideal solution to this. Unlike most identification techniques voice biometric is unobtrusive enabling individual customers to be authenticated quickly, often of just a single utterance. This opens the door to a wider range of self-serve options, such as securely making a payment over the phone or changing personal details.

AI-powered speech recognition capabilities can also help you achieve a level of personalisation within your IVR system that encourages containment. Once a customer is identified you can access data about their history and products or services to which they are subscribed. That knowledge is best used to avoid the need for follow up questions – ask an open question and lock in the intent from just one question rather than needing to ask additional follow up questions.

A contentious area is using customer names and welcoming back returning customers. This can significantly increase the personal feel of the call but needs to implemented carefully to ensure that the tone is not inappropriate – for example if you are calling back about an ongoing issue then greeting with “Hi John, welcome back” does not create the right impression.

IVR analytics and reporting

An IVR system that offers transparency and insights around the calls your contact centre is receiving could be invaluable to improving your containment rate. In fact, one report reveals that using IVR analytics can increase self-service containment by 5%-20%. So how does it work?

Knowing what your customers are calling about daily will help you identify common issues and call types which could be easily addressed by automated targeted banners or resolved by self-service applications. The contact centre are the ones who understand their call types so they are the ones best placed to implement changes but all too often it takes complex IT or business analyst skills. Creating a way to surface these unhandled call reasons in a simple to use way that is accessible to the contact centre stakeholders is the key to success. Importantly, IVR systems that ask open questions like “How can we help you today?” and recognise intent from natural responses will allow you to proactively set up unlimited targeted voice banners to address common call types as needs change. An IVR system that can show where customers are abandoning the IVR might also help you improve your call-routing structure or scripting, such as adjusting for clarity or brevity.

Deflection to other digital channels

Omnichannel customer experiences are increasingly in demand, so acknowledging these changes in customer behaviour could be critical to improving your containment rates. Specifically, when it comes to your IVR, it’s about developing the capability to offer resolutions via the most convenient or accessible channel for your individual customers. For example, an IVR solution that allows callers to switch to other digital channels, such as an online chat agent or chatbot, or automatically sends information via SMS or email, could offer more of your customers a preferable alternative to speaking with an agent.

Offering agent wait time to encourage alternative channels

Being transparent about your call wait times costs nothing, and it could be an important factor in influencing the most digitally sceptical callers to stick with your IVR system to reach the resolution they’re looking for. But this isn’t about putting customers off with warnings of excessive hold times – giving a simple nudge that the caller may otherwise be on hold for a couple of minutes might be all it takes to stop them unnecessarily requesting an agent’s assistance. A good way to achieve this is to link this together with your offer to digital shift.

Optimising your containment rate is no double-edged sword, bringing benefits for both your call centre and your customers. From a few simple tweaks and changes you could make today to leveraging the capabilities of modern call centre technology, there’s plenty you can do to give more customers what they need without requiring your agents’ time.

Learn how BIG W achieved a reduction of up to 30 seconds on their average call handling times.

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