I’ve used H&R Block to prepare my tax returns for the past several years. This year I accidentally ran across their automated appointment scheduling IVR system. I found the system to be remarkably good. In fact, the whole experience is more akin to interacting with an intelligent assistant than with a traditional IVR phone tree.
Here’s how it worked. Towards the end of February, I realized it was time for me to make an appointment with my regular tax preparer at the H&R Block local office. I called the number and a pleasant, automated voice said something along the lines of: “it looks like you’re an existing customer and you already have an appointment. Enter the four digits of the year in which you were born.” So I entered the digits and, to my surprise, the voice said that I already had an appointment.
The automated assistant told me the details of my existing appointment and instructed me to press 1 to change it or 2 to cancel it. But it was the perfect day and time. In fact, creepily enough, the appointment was on the exact date and time that I’d been planning to ask for. Apparently I’d made the appointment a year earlier, when I was in the office having my 2013 tax return done.
When I hung up the phone I was so amazed by the experience, I had to tell a colleague about it. Okay, the fact that the appointment was on the exact date and time I wanted was just a coincidence (or good guessing on my part a year earlier), but it sure made the intelligent assistant seem smart!
Fast forward to this week. I was supposed to go to my appointment yesterday evening. However, we had some more bad weather in the area and the local roads were impassable. The H&R Block office was closed. I made a mental note to call and reschedule my appointment. I dreaded the hassle.
Today I received a voicemail. Guess who it was from? Yep, the H&R Block intelligent scheduling assistant. I dialed the number the assistant had provided and it quickly walked me through setting up a new appointment with my regular preparer. It gave me a few options and let me pick the one I liked best. Then it repeated the information for me so that I could enter it into my calendar.
The whole transaction took place without me ever speaking to a human call agent. In fact, I never spoke at all. Except for the fact that I didn’t say anything, since I was an existing customer, the H&R Block scheduling assistant reminded me of the Hyatt Hotels automated reservation system that’s based on technology from Interactions. Both systems work seamlessly and even though you’re intuitively aware that you’re not dealing with real people, you don’t even notice.
I tried to find some information about the technology that powers H&R Block’s system. I located a brief description of an “H&R Block intelligent virtual agent” on the Chatbots.org site, but it seems to describe a different intelligent assistant than the one I interacted with.
The whole experience with the H&R Block intelligent scheduling system made me realize that self-service is becoming ever more integrated into our daily lives. Sometimes we don’t even notice it. That, in fact, is exactly how it’s supposed to work.