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How IVR has come of age and is smarter than ever

“I have already entered my date of birth – don’t ask me for it a third time!”
“I said pay my bill, not make my will!”
“My name is Karen, not Aaron!”

Thank heavens today’s IVR systems have come a long way from these frustrating IVR systems that used early speech recognition technology.

So what does an IVR system do?

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems have been around for many years in call centres, helping callers reach the right department, or even to serve themselves without having to speak to anyone.

At the most basic level, an IVR system communicates with inbound callers, using touch-tone keypad choices, the caller’s speech or a combination of both, and offers callers options for receiving help.  The options are delivered by pre-recorded messages and include:

  • holding to speak to a customer contact person
  • requesting a callback
  • getting a self-service update on their account
  • ordering something
  • getting an update on an order
  • paying a bill

How IVR has evolved

Early systems only allowed customers to respond using touch-tone keypads – eg:  press 1 for sales, 2 for tech support, 3 for self-service options etc.

Advances in speech processing technologies and AI means that IVR solutions have evolved into intelligent, conversational platforms that can deliver a more intuitive and responsive experience.

And with the rapid shift to mobile phones from landlines, the more advanced IVR solutions can provide visual interactions, taking IVR and CX to a whole new level and opening up extraordinary opportunities.

What are the IVR equipment requirements?

There are several configurations of IVR systems. If managed inhouse, you will need telephony equipment, software applications, a database and a supporting infrastructure, or you could opt to use an IVR hosting service that charges a monthly fee.

If you are running a contact centre, a cloud based contact centre software solution like Premier Contact Point’s IVR software has the IVR capability built in as standard, and you don’t need any extra telephony equipment, supporting infrastructure or inhouse expertise to manage it all.

Many IVR systems use the programming language voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML). VoiceXML components include a telephone network, a TCP/IP network, a VoiceXML telephony server, a web server and databases that all work together to provide the best possible customer experience.

IVR systems also use dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signals to enable communication between a phone and a computer. The computer uses a telephony board or card to understand DTMF signals.

How do IVR systems work?

The modern IVR applications enable you to play pre-recorded instructions or questions to your customers, listen to their answers, or wait for a response and move them to a customer service representative, a queue or self-service options, quickly and easily.

They also work efficiently with text to speech inputs. For example, if a customer enters their account number on their phone keypad, the software will repeat it back to them via voice, to make sure it’s correct, and give them the option to update it.  This makes the validation process faster and more efficient.

When the call is transferred through to a customer service representative, the staff member can view data related to the caller on a display.  This is achieved through computer telephony integration (CTI). Many of today’s systems include speech recognition software to enable a customer to “speak” with a computer.  Speech synthesis, semantic analysis of natural language and artificial intelligence advancements mean that the computer can very quickly understand what the customer wants by asking them to simply say what they want to do and the system will route the call to the right person or self-service option, instead of asking the person to make a lot of choices.

For example:  If the computer asks “Please tell me why you are calling today”, the customer could respond with “To request an extension on my overdue account” or “Make a booking to have my car serviced” etc.


What is an IVR system used for?

IVR systems are used in many ways to automate part or all of communications with customers.

The most basic use is to route calls to the right department or person, which eliminates the need for a switchboard operator.

The next level of use is to provide a menu of options so that a percentage of callers can access answers to frequently asked questions or access straight forward self-service facilities, thereby eliminating the need to speak to a human.

Examples include:

  • Checking bank balances
  • Tracking ETA of an order
  • Paying a bill
  • Finding the nearest outlet
  • Accessing info like opening times, phone no, etc

Some IVR systems can be configured with other digital solutions to streamline processes, reduce data errors and improve customer experiences.  For example:

  • Verification: Answer personal verification information prior to connecting to your staff
  • Transactions: Perform funds transfers, make payments, update account info
  • Marketing: Redeem special offers, take a survey, enter a competition
  • Reminders: Schedule reminders for appointments and reservations to reduce no shows, or to encourage orders for maintenance work – eg: equipment servicing
  • Bookings: make it easy for customers to make bookings
  • Information: Check on movie times, flight schedules, class timetables, etc

For example, a Singapore -based restaurant made it easy for customers to book reservations and make cancellations through their IVR solution.  Not only did they achieve a 50% reduction in no-shows, they also enjoyed increased bookings when people used the system to confirm cancellations, making the tables immediately available to be rebooked.

What are the benefits of using an IVR system?

Implementing advanced IVR technology with well-designed workflows that deliver a great customer experience can provide enormous benefits to any organisation.

  1. Reduce abandoned call rate: when call volumes are high and the queues are lengthy, an intelligent IVR solution answers every inbound call quickly and “triages” the caller into a self-service option, adds them to the relevant queue or allows them to request a call back. In addition to improving the service delivered to your customers, reducing the call abandon rate can have a significant positive financial impact on your business.
  2. 24/7 customer service: Use your IVR system to provide callers with company information, account information, and simple transactional capabilities. This demonstrates that you are committed to being of service even when customer service staff are not on duty to answer calls.
  3. Productivity efficiencies: If you use your IVR technology to provide information and self-service capabilities, you are freeing up your staff to be able to help customers with more complex queries.
  4. Enhanced Customer Experience: With our fully hosted Mobile Customer Experience service, it’s easy to deliver IVR visually to their phones so that callers can see and choose all the options directly on their screen. Specifically designed to leverage the unique capabilities of smartphones, this feature is ideal for engaging customers in queues, during the call, after the call, and for delivering self-service.
  5. Substantial cost savings: SMS and IVR interactions can be provided by you for a fraction of the cost of customer service staff phone calls. Providing your customers with options they can access from their smartphone increases self-service adoption rates, so that fewer customers require live assistance and if they do require assistance, average handling times are significantly reduced.

How to design your IVR workflow

Although IVRs have become accepted as a fact of life, consumers still have a love/hate relationship with them.  They are “loved” when it’s easy for them to access live or self-help effortlessly, and “hated” when they’re presented with too many choices or confusing options, or it’s hard to get live help from an actual human being.

The first step in designing your IVR system workflow is to be clear about your objectives.  The second step is to analyse the main purposes of the calls you receive so you can deliver a workflow that matches needs.

  • If you want to direct callers to the right queue, present the options in the order of the most frequent requests.
  • If you want to promote self-service options, arrange the menu to match what callers typically do most – eg: check balance, make a payment, make a booking, track an order, etc

See our article Tips for designing and IVR that customers don’t mind using for in-depth help with options, complexity, and more.

It’s also important that your IVR messaging reflects your brand, doesn’t contain jargon, is succinct, and sincere.  You can also consider tailoring your scripts for different customer sectors.  Our article How to create the right IVR customer experience contains a wealth of useful tips on this topic.

Is your IVR system an asset or handicap?

To sum it up – your IVR system will be an outstanding asset, or your Achilles heel, depending on the age and limitations of the technology, and how it has been configured and implemented.

It’s crucial that you have an IVR solution that significantly improves (not hinders) the experience that your customers have with you, as well as one that delivers operational and financial benefits.  The Premier Contact Point team has helped many organisations to design IVR workflows to meet objectives and deliver outstanding benefits.  It’s also very easy to create your own workflow to suit any configuration you think of.

Try it out. Design an IVR workflow

If you’d like to see how quickly and easily you can create your workflow with our drag and drop IVR interface, click on the button below to request a demo. You’ll be surprised at how easy and fun it is.


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