Outside Consultant: How Can I Take into Consideration the Challenges of Automated Receptionist Systems?

This "Outside Consultant" column by Mike Porter, EdD, a faculty member in the Marketing Department at Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Sept. 19, 2021.

Many organizations, both consumer facing and B2B, implement call redirect systems to theoretically improve customer and patient access to the “right” person or department as quickly as possible. It may also be done to reduce the number of operators necessary to take calls for organizations fielding a lot of calls – like medical clinics and large retail firms.

As with any communication, both the means of interaction and the essence of the customer’s needs/perspective should be central to the consideration of a technology that becomes a customer touch point and influence on the overall experience. Unfortunately, this aspect of the technology adoption often appears to have been forgotten.

Consider a recent concern from a reader regarding her issues with the automation system at a prominent health care organization:

“Many times, the options are not what I'm seeking or the ‘machine’ speaks too fast … Every staff member encountered is excellent, in my experience. It’s just too hard to access them.”

Particularly in health care, where many patients may be older, taking into consideration that the audience may find challenges really needs to be a significant consideration. Further, offering an immediate option for instructions in Spanish does not help the people in the market whose first language is something other than English or Spanish.

Consider also that your more sophisticated and tech-savvy callers will begin attempting to bypass the system almost immediately by pressing “0” or saying “Representative.” This means that in increased percentage of your audience is likely to be on the less-adept scale at wading through the electronic process.

To address these issues, seriously consider the various segments of the customer and patients that may be faced with your system. When possible, do focus groups of individual participant experience research to test the usability of the system for subgroups to learn where each has issues and then thoughtfully consider how you might adjust.

For instance, you may publish a specific number for those who fall into one or more of the groups facing unique challenges. This might take the form of a line for those with a hearing impairment, or by specific language. This self-selection allows you to still gain the value from the system implemented, but provides appropriate attention to special audiences.

Mike Porter, EdD, is a faculty member in the Marketing Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.