Barry Hays: Financial IVRs Don’t Need ‘Personas’

Patrick Barnard
Written by Patrick Barnard
on August 24, 2015 No Comments
Categories : Person Of The Week

PERSON OF THE WEEK: Barry Hays is co-founder and senior vice president of TeleVoice, a provider of contact center solutions to the mortgage servicing industry. MortgageOrb recently interviewed Hays to learn more about the latest trends in mortgage servicing contact centers and how technology continues to redefine the borrower experience.

Q: Some folks say contact centers are going away – why are contact centers still vital to the customer experience?

Hays: In reality, borrower contact with servicers using various methods has increased rather than declined during the last few years. This is due, in part, to the recent mortgage industry delinquency rates and to people being more obsessive about reviewing their account information. Today's demanding consumers have come to expect instant access to account information any time, any day through a variety of methods, ranging from interactive voice response (IVR) to Web access to chat and others.

Q: Are IVRs declining in usage?

Hays: IVR usage has actually increased in recent years. Today's consumers expect calls to be answered by IVR, and they have largely become used to self-serve technology via the phone. Efforts to improve IVR scripting and to make self service simpler have encouraged increased usage.

In addition to consumer preference, IVR is less expensive than live service. Servicers continue to depend on IVR because handling a call via IVR is a small fraction of the cost of those handled by a live person.

Q: What do you think consumers are looking for in their IVR experience?

Hays: Unless they have complex questions, consumers often prefer to use self service with IVR rather than speak to a representative. What they want is a straightforward interaction with as few entries as possible to get to the information they want or perform a desired function, like a one-time draft. When IVR self-service is simple, callers will use it consistently rather than wait for a representative. Our clients generally find that about half of all inbound calls are handled by IVR without involving a live representative. However, we always make it easy for callers to opt out and get to a representative when they need to.

Q: What do you think the future holds for IVRs? What features and upgrades can we generally expect to see?

Hays: IVR technology will continue to evolve. We will see a growing use of speech recognition that better emulates human interaction. We've certainly seen huge improvement in the technology in the last few years. Siri is a great example. Still, there is a need for improvement in recognizing and interpreting spoken commands. We expect more refined speech recognition technology in the coming years. Additionally, we can expect to see greater integration with IVR and smartphones, with apps and IVR melded together in creative ways. We've seen some early attempts to blend the two, and we expect further developments in the near term.

Q: What contact mechanisms are now required by borrowers? Why is this so?

Hays: Borrower contact methods are much more varied than they were only a few years ago. Today, borrowers make decisions about how to interact with their servicers based on individual preferences, the nature of their questions, and where they are and what tools (e.g., landline, smartphone, laptop, etc.) they have available at any given time. Certainly, demographics and the predominance of smartphones have increased the necessity of custom apps or websites that render well on a phone or tablet. As consumers demand a broader array of access methods, we see servicers making concerted efforts to respond with improved IVR and Web designs, as well as expanded contact options such as SMS text and Web chat.

Q: How successful are servicers and their IVR software partners in personalizing the IVR experience? Specifically, how far have they gone with this? (For example, can a servicer's IVR identify a borrower by name? Recite his last transaction? Remind him that a payment is due or, perhaps, some documentation is needed? Does it matter which device – landline phone, smartphone, laptop – or which number – home or work – he is calling from?)

Hays: Servicers are increasingly seeing the value of improving their IVR scripting to personalize the experience for borrowers. For many years, our servicing clients have presented a ‘data burst’ of payment information to callers right after they authenticate. That quick overview of payment status satisfies a large number of callers who are simply checking to see if their payment has been received.

More recently, we've undertaken more sophisticated designs that look deep into loan level data to try to anticipate why the borrower is calling. For example, if the borrower has requested a payoff statement in the last few weeks, he is probably calling for an updated payoff quote. So, that is the first option presented to that particular borrower. If the borrower is calling from an area recently affected by a natural disaster, he is likely calling with an insurance related question. Thus, insurance options are given priority in the initial menu for those callers.Â

Most of our servicers now compare the borrower's caller ID with a phone number lookup table to locate the loan number and speed authentication. We've found that adding phone number lookup to other standard authentication methods increases IVR utilization by 3% to 5%. It provides a better customer experience and substantially reduces calls routed to representatives.

Q: In the retail realm, many companies today endow their IVRs with ‘personas’ – is this something that would be beneficial to a mortgage servicer from a customer service perspective?

Hays: A few years ago, some IVR consultants were pushing the concept of defining highly tailored personas to be adopted by IVR voice talent when recording system prompts. They created fictional characters – complete with their own names, identities, interests and personal histories – to serve as their corporate voices.

For example, a voice actor might be instructed to record IVR prompts using the persona of a 28-year-old single woman with a degree in sociology who has a Labrador retriever and enjoys hiking on her days off.

This design fad has largely faded away because it failed to improve neither IVR use nor the customer experience. The more sensible approach followed by most of our clients is to select a voice that's pleasant, without any regional accent and that's easily understood.

For branding purposes, it's often wise for larger financial institutions to adopt a single voice for all divisions, including banking, origination and mortgage servicing. Although an AT&T study in the 1950's showed that callers trusted a male voice over a female voice when it came to financial information, more recent surveys have shown no particular preference.

(Got a mortgage professional you'd like to suggest for MortgageOrb's ‘Person of the Week?’ Contact editor Patrick Barnard at

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