IVR (Interactive Voice Response) technology automates common or frequently performed telephone transactions by means of a computer interacting with a person by playing prompts and responding to touch-tone or voice input.
IVR is rarely a complete replacement for live agents, but rather a supplemental technology. Callers are often initially routed to an IVR, but when there is no option to transfer to a live agent, a significant drop in customer satisfaction can be expected. Many issues can only be resolved by a live agent. And some callers simply have an aversion to IVR systems.
Applications of IVR technology
- Service selection – a simple menu that allows people to reach the right team or individual (“press 1 for sales, press 2 for customer service…”). Service selection IVR provides the simplicity of a single inbound phone number and minimizes the number of transfers before the caller reaches the right person.
- Data collection – asking the caller to enter an account number, for example, so that the customer can be identified before they are connected to an agent. This allows call flow features such as:
- prioritizing calls in a queue, reducing waiting times for your best customers;
- connecting a caller to the last agent they spoke with, providing a sense of personal touch;
- and popping a screen with the customer’s account information and a list of past transactions, saving a lot of agent time in the beginning of the call.
- Self-service – many common or frequently performed actions can be performed by a computer, without a human agent. Examples:
- A shipping service call flow that reads to the caller their package status before connecting them to a live agent. This reduces the load on the agent team, leaving them free to deal with more complex questions.
- After-hours voice mail, filed a case with voice attachment, complete with identified reporter, category, priority, SLA clock, and e-mail notification, thus providing service after hours when day staff is not available.
- Queue treatment – IVR may play music in a queue for callers (so the callers know that they have not been disconnected). It can also provide different music based on selected service or customer identity, provide estimated waiting time, service reminders, and voicemail and self-service options, all while waiting for an agent.
- Survey – reading a series of questions after each call, and collecting voice or touch-tone responses.
- Automatic notifications – an IVR call may notify customers about upcoming deliveries, cases requiring attention, or emergencies. The flow may incorporate acknowledgments (“enter your badge number to confirm”) or full-featured self-service with an agent connection option.
- Attendant – an IVR can connect callers to extensions, or perform a search for a person by dialing multiple numbers.
Applications that control the flow of calls through an IVR are commonly known as IVR scripts. IVR scripts are usually implemented using a drag-and-drop GUI editor that makes it relatively easy to choose and connect “blocks” and to specify their configuration in order to create the desired call flow.
Another option in IVR scripts is VoiceXML. The benefit of using VoiceXML is that allows the use of web infrastructure, along with its development and integration capabilities, to drive telephone transactions. The drawbacks of VoiceXML include arcane syntax (usually overcome by block-based GUI editors, although that defeats the purpose of using VoiceXML for flexibility) and weak capabilities for connecting live agents.
IVR Script Usability
Detecting bugs and usability issues in an IVR script does not usually take long. Simply trying all paths uncovers most issues as call flows tend not to be very complex.
What can be harder is finding out where callers are confused or delayed.
Fortunately, IVR reports include data on blocks-execution frequency, branches selected, and disconnect frequency per block, and these all provide good insight into which locations of the call flow need attention.
Interoperability with Call Center
The interoperation with a call center technology is a crucial part of any IVR. Obviously, many IVR applications require the IVR to pass data and calls for routing, as well as connecting to a live agent.
It is important that the IVR can integrate with a company’s back office, and can enable data collection, self-service, surveys, automatic notifications, and other services that depend on customer data.
The integrations may include:
- Database access
- Web services API access
- Salesforce CRM integration (data access via API)
- Zendesk integration
- E-mail send with attachment
- Passing data with a call
- Text-to-speech is a useful feature for reading customer data and generating prompts on the fly during script development.
- Speech recognition can be very valuable, but for proper deployment requires serious rethinking of IVR flow in terms of human behavior, as simple “say sales for sales” menus don’t bring more value than simple touch-tone ones. Post-production usability maintenance also is more costly as it deals with human speech variations and probability tuning.
- A number of specialized vendors offer live speech recognition—chunks of speech are sent to real people in real time to analyze and act on. This provides very good accuracy while keeping dialog more private and impersonal.
- Common data speaker – a capability to play common data, such as dates, times, numbers, and currencies using pre-recorded prompts, using real human voice (not text-to-speech).
- Multilingual prompt capability, which must include not only using substantially the same IVR call flow with different languages and switching them on the fly; but also providing the common data speaker in multiple languages.
On-premise installations usually involve dedicated hardware, part/option of a telephone switch (often called a VRU, or voice response unit), or VoIP gateways working with software on generic server hardware.
For cases when most calls are expected to be serviced by IVR, the IVR is deployed in front of the ACD, directly connected to the PSTN. But when most of the calls are serviced by live agents, IVR is usually deployed behind the ACD, with the ACD connected to the PSTN.
In the cloud
Cloud IVR deployments allow companies to sidestep, or more precisely, off-load, the whole issue with channel capacities to a cloud IVR provider. There are 3 major ways that IVR is deployed in the cloud today:
- VoiceXML providers – they play VoiceXML generated by client’s servers
- Built-in function with call center providers
The first two options are not very good for connecting live agents.
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