Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is a key tool for contact centers. It automatically responds to customer queries with speech that’s either pre-recorded or generated dynamically.
IVR allows customers to access a variety of services without speaking to a human agent. These services range from call routing, to providing basic information and even resolving customer enquiries.
This can have major benefits for both the customer and the contact center.
What are the benefits of IVR?
A well-designed IVR system is good for both your business and your customers.
IVR business benefits include:
- Cost savings. Interactions handled without an agent cost far less
- Shorter queues. Automating some calls reduces the demand for agents.
- Better routing. Data collected in IVR can improve routing, which means more calls are resolved first time.
IVR customer benefits include:
- Faster service. Customers don’t need to hold for an agent.
- More service options. Modern customers appreciate access to self-service tools.
- Greater privacy. In many areas (such as debt collection) customers may prefer not to speak to a person.
The benefits in detail
- Improved customer experience (CX) – IVR can improve CX in several ways. Call center services are complicated, but a well-constructed menu can categorize them. This makes services far easier for customers to navigate. It also means that customers don’t need to wait on hold, which is often considered the biggest pain point. Of course, you can provide an automated service 24/7.
- CTI/multi-channel integration – When a contact center has a strong integration strategy it’s very simple to let customers switch between channels. For example, this switch could be between a call and web interface, or an IVR input which triggers an automated SMS. Inputs made in IVR can also interact (via an API) with other tools like CRM, Helpdesk or BI.
- Smarter automation – There are many useful actions which you can trigger automatically from IVR. For example, it’s easy to update data within an integrated Helpdesk or CRM based on any event in a call. This could include a request for sales material, negative feedback or simply a record of the call. An especially useful use case for automation is zero waiting for the inbound call center. (Allowing customers to hand up rather than queue, and automatically calling them back when an agent is free.)
How did this technology develop?
In the 1960s Bell Systems created a way to translate a button push into an ‘input’ that a computer could recognize.
This input is the sound a phone makes when you press a key. It’s called dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) and it’s easy for a computer to interpret.
IVR software began to grow in commercial use in the 1980s as the technology became more affordable. It was only available to large enterprises at first, but prices dropped steadily. Widespread commercial use advanced throughout the 1990s.
The new millennium also saw the introduction of a new kind of input, apart from DTMF. ‘Natural Language Processing’ (NLP) allows users to respond by speaking aloud, rather than pressing keys. This helps to overcome the limitations of over-long option menus.
Dynamically generated speech is a technology that matured in parallel to NLP. It allows IVR systems to respond with words and phrases which were not pre-recorded.
IVR is still one of the most important pieces of technology in the contact center – especially when you can add automation. Ready to learn more? Get ‘Your Guide to Conversational AI‘ now.