About Mike Ahnemann

Mike Ahnemann, Creative Director, User-Experience at Angel, has been designing speech recognition applications for more than a decade. He has worked on some of the largest speech deployments in the industry for customers in banking, telecommunications, travel, health care, and even in-car telematics. As the head of Angel’s design practice, Mike is focused on creating the best possible caller experience for every Angel application, in order to deliver solutions that will delight callers while addressing the business needs of our customers.

How to Make Outbound IVR Applications I Won’t Hate

I hate telemarketers. I don’t want what they are trying to sell me. Ever. I hate their robot dialer that calls me first to see if someone will answer before transferring me to a person standing by to sell me something. I hate that the person I’m transferred to will try to sell to me using a predetermined script written by someone else. I hate it all so much that whenever there are a couple of seconds of silence after I say “Hello,” I’ve always hung up, especially when the caller ID says “Unknown” or “Blocked.”

But a couple of years ago, I had a surprise that’s made me more careful about the calls I reject and the ones I take. One day I actually stayed on the line, because the name of our local garbage company popped up on the Caller ID, and I was curious. What could THEY possibly want to sell me? What I heard next shocked me…

“Hello, this is <garbage company> calling to let you know that because of the holiday next week, your trash will be picked up on Wednesday. If you no longer want to receive reminders like this one, press 9 to be taken off our list. Thank you and goodbye.”

“No WAY!” I thought. That was useful! That’s information that helps me. It beats walking up the street to see if anyone else has their trash out on Monday night! And the automation system was thoughtful too – it was willing to let me opt out. But who in their right mind would ever opt out of such useful automation?

As it turns out, there are many useful automated systems like this one. Companies use them to remind people about prescriptions that are ready to be picked up, update them about changes to their flight status, remind them of a dentist appointment, or confirm a service appointment for their car. There are even outbound campaigns where callers opt-in to a weekly phone call that gives them information about a medical condition, or helps them learn to make exercise part of their normal routine. There’s even an automated outbound application that helps you quit smoking! Because of the way Angel works, it’s very easy to create automated outbound applications. As a result, I’ve had a chance to design systems that handle many of those examples above. And who better to design useful automation like this than a person who absolutely despises those annoying telemarketer phone calls? I have five tips that might help as you create your next automated outbound application:

1. Go with your gut: Ask yourself, “Is this a phone call I’d be happy or annoyed to receive?” (Reject the annoying ideas!) Telling me my trash pickup date has changed is incredibly useful. Telling me you’d like to sell me a new trash can for three payments of $19.95 is incredibly annoying. See how easy that is?

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How to Stop Hating IVRs

Something to talk about at your next dinner party.

Okay – I know… everyone hates IVRs right?  Is that the reason why my wife, a documentary film producer, enjoys telling people about her work at a dinner party, while for me, the “So, what do you do for work?” question results in a carefully prepared defense of my career choice?

No!

People don’t hate IVRs, and they don’t hate automation – in fact they LOVE it when it’s done well.  Take the ATM for example.  ATM stands for “Automatic Teller Machine.”  No secrets there – it’s definitely automation.  ATMs aren’t sexy objects, and they often aren’t even well designed – the ATM at my bank asks me every time which language I’d like to use, which they should KNOW because I’ve just identified myself using my card and a PIN!

But I still like this particular automation because I know what it will do for me, and I know I’ve made the choice to use it.  If I can push a few buttons and walk away 2 minutes later with cash in hand, why would I go inside, fill out a withdrawal slip, stand in line, and ask a teller to get out the money from a locked drawer, and count it twice?

Maybe for the free lollypop?

The ATM is a prime example of why people get excited about automation that works:  it helps them do something in an efficient, time saving way.

For example, imagine the following IVR interaction:

IVR: Welcome to the book store.  I see there’s an order in progress for someone at this number.  Is that what you’re calling about? Click here to read more »

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