Interactive voice response (IVR) calls are not exactly a user friendly experience – they are known as ‘robocalls’ for a reason. At worse, an IVR call feel like submitting to an interview with Darth Vader. Making IVR calls a user-friendly experience has been one of our main concerns in Somalia in recent months. If we succeed, we could gain the benefits of automating some of our data collection in the country.
In February and March, the WFP Somalia team has experienced some success in introducing IVR, by adapting the tool to local habits. It seems that a few critical elements came together:
- First, our field team are now completely comfortable using Verboice and the IVR system. While we went through some months of trial and error, at present the technology itself is no longer an obstacle. This is important as this allows the field team to experiment and test different approaches at will.
- Secondly, Somalia gradually introduced IVR after 7 monthly rounds of voice calls that were placed by operators. In Central Somalia, a group of randomly-selected people have been receiving voice calls from our operators every month since April 2014. During this time, people become more comfortable with the survey with our operators. People who received IVR calls were therefore ‘experienced’ survey respondents who knew what question was coming.
- Thirdly, the Somalia team understood that receiving an IVR call was somewhat unsettling for survey respondents, who might merely hang up once the call began playing. In order to avoid this reaction, operators called up respondents in order to warn people that they would shortly be receiving an automated IVR call. Response to IVR calls was much better after being cajoled in this way.
- Fourthly, our questions are worded in the local Somali dialect, and sound familiar to people hearing them.
- Finally, the team is continuing to try new ways of improving the IVR experience. For instance, they are attempting to re-record our survey questions with the voice of a popular local radio host – someone whose voice was clear, engaging and familiar. They plan on using these audio files in May.
The use of these different tactics has been met with modest success, with 40 or so calls in February and over 80 in March. Over 50% of people who start an IVR survey finish it. We still have to analyze the data to understand what demographics are successfully responding to IVR calls.
This seems to confirm an important piece of advice we were given by the Listening to Dar team earlier in the project — introduce the tool progressively with the community. The use of principles relating to human-centered design also seem to have paid off.