Chatbots Fail When They Remind Us of IVR Systems

I keep reading that chatbots are the thing and will be more of the thing but I have to admit I’m not on board yet. I believe that human communication is going to require humans. We’re X years off from truly conversational robots.

Do you enjoy IVR systems? Welcome to the typed version.

IVR systems aka Interactive Voice Response are where you call a company. The voice tells you she’s Jenny and she can help you find what you need. Just say one of the following.

“Customer service.”

Jenny thinks you said billing. Is that right? NO. “Customer service.”

Jenny thinks you said customer service. You start breathing again. Before you can be transferred, Jenny wants your account number. You don’t know it. Jenny wants you to read out your zip code. Did you say 89737? NO.

Is your chatbot the same?

Right now, companies are using chatbots that have very canned abilities and responses. Are these things I could have just Googled to find out? Will the chatbot know more than Google search results? I’m contacting you because I have something I can’t do after searching Google.

Even if you build it to say cute things like, “I can’t hear you” when I say I don’t want a bot, you haven’t helped me. I have a real question. I didn’t know I was getting a bot when Facebook said American Express responds quickly to questions over Messenger.

Chatbots are inefficient.

I have seen retail versions of chatbots in Facebook Messenger where you were going to shop by chatbot. You wrote a word. We ask you to narrow down. You can’t answer openly; you have to click a pre-defined blob with the answer. Eventually, we show you a few results.

This seems ways slower than going to the retail site and searching for “size 8 Guess blue jeans.” If you are making my process longer or adding errors to it, this is not a product people will connect with. Do your shoppers like to scan search results for something that looks good? Chatbot is also not for them.

Who is the target audience for the current chatbot?

I have to admit I just don’t see it. I’m not a fan of IVR systems. I don’t like talking to Jenny and hoping she guesses what I’m saying. I don’t like talking to Chatbots and getting basically what’s in the support scripts and FAQs.

Can your company log how many people are truly helped by the automated system they got before getting a phone associate? Or how many were truly helped by the chatbot? I’ll defer to your real data. If most of your customer service calls are “what’s my balance” and your IVR and/or chatbot can answer that, then wow, you saved time and money.

But how many of us have strange or unique questions that require a human? How many of us tried to search online for the answer first and are now hoping typed or called customer support will have a trained person helping us?

Delta CX author | Customer Experience Strategist, Architect, Speaker, Trainer. “The Mary Poppins of CX & UX.” Learn more at and

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