Do your processes S.U.C.K…?


Let us play a game!

You get 1 point for every correct answer:

Scenario: I call my bank [1] via their general enquiries telephone number obtained from their website. I just want to understand what their local branch hours are during lockdown. (No, their banking hours have not been updated on their website)

Q1: How long did I have to hold before I was able to navigate through the IVR options and successfully speak to an actual human being?

Q2: How many options did I need to select  before I was able to speak to a human being?

Q3: How many times did I need to re-enter my Identity number before I was able to speak to an actual human being?

Q4: How many times did I need to repeat my REASON FOR CALLING to the BOT what asked me what my query was about before passing me through to the next IVR option?

Q5: Did the BOT direct me to the correct division, based on my (finally accepted) response? (This is a Yes/No question)

Q6: Did the human agent ask me for my REASON FOR CALLING? (This is a Yes/No question)


Q1- Three of the longest minutes of my life (I suspect this was a good day and I should be grateful)

Q2- Six – but to be fair, I bailed out after starting to beat my head on the desk… so by repeatedly entering the ‘#’-key, the IVR gives up and transfers you to an agent (#NoteToSelf, #TimesavingTipForFuture, #YesWeCanBypassYourSillyIVRTree)

Q3- I gave up after the third time. (I was extremely careful to enter right correct numbers)

Q4- Three. BOT > HUMAN? (I don’t think so) [2]

Q5- What do you think? – NO!

Q6- Yes (…I did not and still don’t have words…)

If you got too many questions right, I think we are all in more trouble than we thought we were…

This was (unfortunately) a real-life experience. No kidding! You know I am not kidding because I bet you’ve experienced it too…on numerous occasions…am I right?

Why does this happen?

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is a technology that gathers information and then routes calls to the appropriate recipients or divisions who have been trained to deal with that specific type of query.

It is implemented by organisations to primarily save themselves some money. Bottom line.

IVR systems are typically rolled-out in call centre environments where agents are quickly trained in only 1 or 2 specific skills (silo-based) and if something is encountered that is beyond what they were trained on, they would need to transfer the call.  This is probably dictated by business models where call centre staff are paid minimal fees, work in shifts, are youngsters/students/temps and where the turn-over of staff is very high. The IVR call-tree helps business manage calls across their workforce. It begs several questions around how serious such organisations are about serving their customers or giving them a wonderful experience…but let me not completely derail myself here.

I’m not sure if customer experience has EVER played a major role in deciding whether to implement an IVR solution (come on – be honest….), but I would venture that costs typically override customer experience…

Maybe the heart of the matter is…what culture are we trying to create?

  • Do we really want to help the customer in an as quick, friendly and efficient way as possible?
  • If yes, what organizational culture should we establish?
  • Should we really be implementing more technology between our business and our customers (like IVRs systems) or rather encourage more interactive ways to engage meaningfully with our customers?
  • Is it not worth the investment to put our best people in customer-facing (or listening) positions, where we train them extremely well, pay them well, treat them as professionals who are on the frontline in terms of carrying the flag on behalf our company?

All my above ranting aside, as Business Analysts, we have a responsibilitya privilege to design processes that do not S.U.C.K.

These are processes that are NOT:

S - stupid

U - ugly

C - confusing

K - killing your customer’s enthusiasm to buy from you again…ever!


Obviously no-one (in their right mind anyway!) ever sets out to design processes that qualify in the above categories, so why then do we end up with them?

This might be because of tight deadlines, not starting with the customer in mind, not testing the processes with the target audience or even not updating implemented processes once they are found to be sub-optimal or S.U.C.K.’y…..

Whatever the reasons, we should seek to prevent the creation of processes like these by all means.

Here are a few suggestions to consider next time when you design your next process:

  • Draw up a list of design principles (if your organisation do not have them already) and stick to them.
  • Keep the customer experience top of mind. So, put yourself in the shoes of the customer.
  • Will this process (in the customer’s mind):
  • Be easy to understand? (Think Google’s ultimate 1 field on the screen)
  • Be quick and efficient to use? (How long does the process take to complete/submit/approve/etc. ?)
  • Require minimal effort/input? (Does it just seem like too much effort? Think LEAN!)
  • Deliver value that leaves them with a sense of efficiency? (Do they go away thinking: ‘wow that was easy!’)
  • Don’t simply implement the first draft of the process. “Trial and error” it: What I mean is follow an iterative approach:  DRAFT -TEST- FIX-TEST-IMPROVE-TEST-UPDATE-TEST, etc. Test it against a variety of different audiences and people. The bigger the variety, the better. You WANT to get the criticism early on, while there is still time to improve the process in a cheap way, away from customer or reputational scrutiny.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you are clear about the purpose of what you are trying to achieve, and you measure your outcomes, you’re probably on the right track. Look at process optimisation specialists like McDonalds, who have fine-tuned their processes to cut out all waste or activities that do not add value to the customer…
  • Accept that there is no such a thing as a perfect process. The world constantly changes, people change and so too should our processes.

Let’s go out and create smart, value-driven and customer friendly processes and please…let’s get rid of those IVRs!

“Knowing the right thing and not doing it is the ultimate cowardice”


Author: Danie Van Den Berg, CBAP

Danie van den Berg is a consulting business analyst from Johannesburg, South-Africa. Over the past two decades he has worked in a variety of industries. His specialities include Requirements gathering & elicitation, Business Process Re-engineering, workflow automation and process optimisation. He enjoys mentoring BA professionals, writing about and teaching on business analysis. Danie is passionate about the role a Business Analyst plays within organisations and believes it is central to changing and improving the world we work and live in. Some of his previous articles on include:

[1] Bank name not mentioned to protect the guilty …

[2] This did inadvertently make me think back about the YouTube skit of the lift with voice recognition that could not understand the Scottish accent…go and Google it… and NO, my English accent isn’t that bad…or Scottish!



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