Interactive Voice Response IVR Systems and Older Adults by sammyc2007

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									Interactive Voice Response
(IVR) Systems and Older
Adults: Lessons Learned
Michelle McNulty
Ellen Connor Mangan*

Fidelity Investments
Boston, MA

          * Currently employed by The Mathworks

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems have
 become more complex and more prevalent.

Information can be accessed and processed
 over the phone through touch tone and speech
 user interfaces.


The speech component allows customers to
 use verbal commands to obtain general or
 personal (account) information and conduct

Providing an intuitive user interface is key for a
 successful user experience.

Fidelity’s Phone Stats

 Fidelity‟s phone systems receive a combined
  average of 282,000 phone calls per day.

 Forty-two percent of those calls are handled by
  an automated system.

Fidelity’s Phone Stats

 Usage statistics for the systems report that:
    79% of the callers are 50 or older
    51% of the callers are 60+
    Less than 5% of the callers are under the age of 40

 Because older users may be less comfortable
  with the web, the voice channel remains an
  important part of their overall user experience.


Fidelity has conducted a great deal of research
 into older adult‟s usage of the web.

We observed many age-dependent behaviors
 that affected web usage.

Would we see similar results if we looked at our
 IVR system?

Our Usability Studies

 We have conducted over 125 IVR-based
  usability and research sessions over the past 5
  years, many with older adults.

 The studies included several “typical” usability
  sessions (approx. 8-10 users) and one larger
  research study that specifically focused on older

Our Usability Studies

 The systems tested were designed to:
    Find account and personal information
    Conduct transactions
    Report technical problems
    Check voicemail
    Set up a voice ID

 Most systems used both speech recognition
  and touch tone interfaces.

  Research Study Results

      21 24 26 30 33 39 43 46 52 52 54 55 56 58 63 65 65 65 65 66 68 69 70 72 72 73 73 76 77

          Task success rate declined as a function of age.

Task Completion Rate by Age Group

     % Task Completion


                              <65                 65+
                                    Age Group

                               (p = .037, n=27)
Designing for the Older User

Because of physical and cognitive changes that
 happen with age, we expected to see
 performance decline with age.
    Reduced working memory capacity
    Hearing
    Motor dexterity

Understanding the changes we undergo as we
 age should influence the design of systems that
 have a significant population of older users.

Designing for the Older User

Older users bring different abilities and
 expectations to phone-based interactions than
 younger users do.

Until the middle of 2004, 96% of users
 interacted primarily through touchtone.

Speech recognition and the primary use of
 voice commands is relatively new.
    What issues would older users encounter?
    What benefits would older users discover?

Lessons Learned

We compiled the following lessons learned from
 the variety of usability studies we conducted
 over the past few years with older adults.

Our recommendations are based on our past
 experience and other available research.

Don’t set false expectations

 Unrealistic expectations of system‟s abilities
  (Expecting a „Star Trek‟ experience).
     Users knew they weren‟t talking to people, but many older
      adults tried to interact with the system as if it were human.
     The conversational and easy-going “nature” of some interfaces
      may set false expectations.
     Some users described certain system responses, such as “Got
      it,” as colloquial and not professional.
     “Younger users expressed annoyance at the system attempting
      to sound sorry.

Be Consistent

Consistency is very important.
    Sudden auditory changes of the automated voice might signal
     an error or incorrectly indicate that users have been transferred
     somewhere else.
    Menu structure and controls should be consistent throughout the
     interaction. Don‟t set up the ability to use voice commands in
     one part of the system and then disable voice commands in
     other parts of the system.

Pacing of System

Pace of system was often too fast for older
    Older users tend to be slower at information processing.
    Providing them just enough time between spoken menu items to
     echo each choice sub-vocally appears to improve their success
     with IVR Systems.
    However, some younger users actually preferred menu items
     spoken at a more rapid pace (less time between items) as they
     could get to the information they wanted faster.

Pacing of System

Pace of system was often too fast for older
    If possible, consider implementing a system that recognizes the
     age of the user and leverages that to determine the amount of
     space between items and the speed at which the menu prompts
     are spoken.
    If that is not possible, we recommend following the option that
     would help the greatest number of users, i.e. the largest user

Avoid Information Overload

Too many menu choices & long messages
     Reduced working memory capacity in older users made this
      more problematic for them than younger users.
     When presented with a long menu, we observed many older
      users simply choosing the last item in the list.
     Lengthy messages can also overload memory. We observed a
      a few older users opting out to a representative possibly
      because it took too long to get to the menu prompts.

Avoid Jargon

Usage of jargon, obscure terminology
    This affected all users, but especially older users and those with
     lower levels of financial literacy.
    If users are unsure what a menu prompt means, they will be
     more likely to just make a random choice or attempt to reach a
     representative quickly.
    Know your users and avoid using “jargon-y” terms that they may
     not understand.
    Using familiar words & ones that refer to concrete objects has
     been shown to improve performance.


Older users were overly polite.
    Older users were often hesitant and had trouble interrupting the
    They often said “please” and “thank you”.
    They spent much longer on the phone at the end of the call than
     younger users because they waited for an obvious „out‟ vs. just
     hanging up.
    Allow generous barge-in.
    The system should ignore various pleasantries such as “please
      and “thank you”.
    Inform users at various points in the interaction that they can
     hang up when they‟re finished.

Include Some Touchtone Options

Many users prefer using the touchtone options
 to speaking their choices.

Always offer a touchtone option for entering
 sensitive information, like SSN and PIN.

Touchtone options serve as an external
 memory device, offering a physical indication of
 the available choices (think of a finger hovering
 over buttons). This seemed especially helpful to
 older users.

Include Some Touchtone Options

Use touchtone options strategically when
 transitioning users into a new technology
    In the initial rollout, offer both touchtone and voice options in the
     first menu.
    Touchtone options should always be available as a backup.
      ►   Accents, environments, privacy concerns.

Frequency of Sound

 Because higher-frequency sounds are the
  first to go with progressive hearing loss1, use
  a lower-pitched voice.
    Peak hearing sensitivity is around 3,000 – 4,000 Hz.
    Lower frequencies are less susceptible to „masking‟ effects

             1 National Academy on an Aging Society: Hearing Loss

Positive Reaction to Voice Recognition

Many seniors were very enthusiastic about the
 voice recognition.

Hands-free interaction helps users:
    With physical impairments such as arthritis
    Fine motor-control problems
    On cell and cordless phone

“Words are much easier!” – comment from a
 user with severe arthritis.


 Many of the usability issues we observed
  affected both older and younger people, but in
  general older users had more trouble
  recovering from those errors.

 Many of the usability recommendations given
  here would benefit all users if implemented.

 Understanding issues that result from the aging
  process help not only older users but lead to a
  more universally accessible design.


The key is to know and design for your user.

 If the majority of users is older make sure your
  system accommodates their requirements.

 Set expectations. Warn customers of big
  changes – ahead of time and/or in the system

Contact Information

Michelle McNulty

Ellen Connor Mangan

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Stolzfus, E., Hasher, L., and Zacks, R. (1996) Working Memory and Aging:
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