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An increasing number of senior citizens are making use of smartphones when communicating with contact centers. Adopting a visual IVR is the ideal way to make their lives easier and reduce your own costs at the same time.

There is a common misperception that the Internet, social media and smartphones are the all-but-exclusive domain of the younger generation. That is not the case, however, with many older adults enthusiastically adopting these technologies not only as a means of staying current but also of keeping in touch with old acquaintances and younger family members.

Statistics indicate that one in five Twitter users is over the age of fifty. Perhaps this is not such a surprising stat, since everyone knows the president is an avid user of the service, and he’s already 70. However, more than 50% of Americans 65 and older use the Internet, with three-quarters of these active on a daily basis. So it should come as no surprise to learn that in an increasing number of senior citizens are purchasing and using smartphones as well.

In fact, a survey conducted last year by Age ¹ indicated that over half of all respondents in between the ages of 60 and 79 owned a smartphone. Despite this growing uptake, there remain a number of challenges faced by senior citizens in adopting these technologies. For some, the challenge is physical in nature, with health conditions and disabilities making reading difficult or successfully operating the buttons on these devices challenging.

In addition, there are inevitably going to be members of the older generation that have skeptical attitudes towards the real benefits of technology, and others still that experience difficulties in learning to use these new devices.

On the other hand though, embracing new technology later in life also offers its own benefits. Smartphones are the ideal way for senior citizens to remain in touch with friends and family, either through calls, SMSes, or accessing platforms such as Facebook or Skype.

Clearly, then, the smartphone is inevitably going to be the go-to device for many older customers when they want to get hold of your contact center. And for the multitude of simple questions that many customers will want to ask, your contact center is undoubtedly going to want to use an IVR where it can.

In the healthcare sector, we have the perfect confluence of an older customer base and an industry that by its nature will be required to provide answers to a diverse range of questions relating to care packages, medicines, payments and many other such aspects. So what is wrong with employing a simple IVR?

Many senior citizens have some form of hearing issue, which means that even hearing things correctly when talking to a live person is not always easy. With the synthesized voices found on IVRs, understanding what is being said becomes even more difficult.

Moreover, in most cases, IVR technology is not exactly senior-friendly when it comes to issues like volume, pitch, tone and speed. Nor even when it comes to the amount of time provided to respond to prompts. Obviously, this means that your IVR is generally only succeeding in doing the opposite of its intent – it is making the process more, not less, difficult for the customer.

Other issues older people raise with IVR systems is their dislike in talking to a machine, the often complex nature of the telephone menus and the lengthy instructions related to this. In addition, menus are generally considered to be too long. Nobody wants to have to go through the same menu multiple times to find either the option they want or the one that will at least allow them to speak to a human operator. As a contact center operator, your organization also should not want them to try and contact a human operator, except as a final resort, since such calls are the costliest ones your center can field.

With senior citizens, poor voice recognition can also impact their use of a typical IVR system – it is easy for them to become frustrated when the system fails to recognize their voice commands and choices. Anything from a bad line to unclear pronunciation to excessive background noise or handset volumes can cause this. But whatever the cause, the result is never one which reflects positively on the service provider.

Moreover, many older people have indicated that if they have a bad experience with an IVR, and there is a competitor whose system is more to their liking, they would be quite happy to transfer their allegiance there. This means you now find yourself in a position where customers might be willing to jump ship to a competitor that better addresses their needs. And you should never forget that in most cases, senior citizens have time on their hands anyway, so it is a simple matter for them to research your rivals and shop around.

So what is the answer?

It is surprisingly simple – instead of utilizing a standard IVR, introduce a visual one instead. By delivering a visual menu to the customer’s smartphone screen, they are able to see the menus and peruse them at their leisure. No more frustrating electronic voices, no prompts that fail to give adequate time to respond, and no more forgetting what was number one on the list by the time the IVR has given you a sixth possible choice.

Visualizing the IVR is ideal for the older demographic, as it makes the process simpler and easier, enables them to make their selection a lot faster and completely changes the experience. After all at its most basic, humanity is a visual species, so seeing the menu is far more comforting than simply listening to it. Secondly, it makes it simpler for users to navigate back and forth to find the option they need.

Visual IVR has been proven to increase customer satisfaction because it improves your service levels, and it is also a lot better suited to retaining and satisfying customers. So why haven’t more healthcare providers adopted this solution? It is most likely because they have not yet realized that senior citizens are not as technologically backwards as they might think, and see visual IVR as something that will increase, rather than decrease, the complexity of navigating customer service, even though this patently untrue.

You shouldn’t patronize your older customers by suggesting that they have no handle on the latest technologies because the facts clearly belie this. At the same time, with customers of this nature - those that are more likely to become easily frustrated with technology when it doesn’t work as they expect – you do want to do everything you can make life easier for them.

What it boils down to is that you need to recognize the fact that they are much the same as any other customer segment. Many older people are more technology-proficient than organizations give them credit for, and they, like other customer segments, prefer doing things as quickly and directly as they can, without having to wait to talk to an actual person.

With visual IVR, you have the opportunity to not only make navigating the sometimes complex world of healthcare simpler for them, while providing them with a 24/7 service facility but at the same time saving your contact center thousands of dollars per year.

Better customer service at a lower cost – what’s not to like about that?

[About the author]Dylon headshot Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.

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