Interactive voice response systems (IVRs) have been around for decades and are now a foundational component of call center software suites. They have evolved significantly over time due to technology advances. For example, the original versions had strict menu options that callers selected by touching the corresponding number on their telephone keypad. These days, depending on the IVR, callers can just verbalize their issue and completely bypass the menu tree. Other advances enable features such as self-service, call backs, customer authentication, and highly intelligent routing.
Despite all these enhanced capabilities, an IVR is only as good as an organization empowers it to be. This is true of just about any system, but perhaps especially true of IVRs. It's easy to neglect IVRs once the flurry of the initial implementation is over. But to get the full benefits of IVRs, they need regular care driven by a well-thought-out IVR strategy. How a business uses their IVR should be grounded in a fundamental understanding of how IVRs impact customer experience (CX) and benefit the business.
These ABCs discuss some of the characteristics of IVRs that should be considered when designing an IVR approach. We even included a D for good measure!
A = Automation
First and foremost, an IVR is an automation tool. Its most basic function is to assist with call routing, something that used to be handled by receptionists and telephone operators. The IVR collects the information, such as inquiry type or language preference, that allows the automatic call distributor (ACD) to send the call to the best agent or agent team.
But modern IVRs can be used to automate much more than call routing. For example, when integrated with other business systems, such as order or billing software, an IVR can allow callers to check order status or pay bills. IVRs can also collect information that automatically gets passed to agents, which saves the agent time. For example, organizations can have the IVR authenticate callers so agents don't have to perform this step.
The automation capabilities of IVRs should be thoroughly understood, explored and clearly included in IVR strategies. Not doing this could lead to squandering powerful possibilities.
B = Beneficial to businesses
When organizations automate tasks, they typically realize cost savings, and using an IVR is no exception. In addition to eliminating labor costs associated with manually routing calls, IVRs can also lead to reduced agent costs in a few significant ways. When the IVR enables self-service, for example, those calls are resolved at a much lower cost than if an agent had assisted the caller. Additionally, if the IVR collects caller information and passes it to the agent, that reduces average handle time (AHT) which, in turn, can lower labor costs. Improved routing can also increase first call resolution, which also benefits the bottom line.
IVRs also have some not so obvious benefits. A key one is the potentially positive impact on agents. When the IVR automates some of the more mundane tasks, it takes burden off the agents. Now, they can focus on more complex interactions, which many agents will find more rewarding. Additionally, the improved routing decreases the likelihood that agents will receive calls they can't handle. Both outcomes should lead to happier agents, which should also lead to happier customers and better agent retention.
C = Customer-centric
Some people would debate that an IVR isn’t customer-centric. Unfortunately, some early and atrocious designs gave IVRs a bad reputation that has taken awhile to overcome. When designed with CX in mind - which is the right way to do it - an IVR can offer an enriched customer experience. For example, an IVR is available 24/7, even when the call center isn't. This allows customers to receive after-hours support for basic self-service tasks. And not only are these self-service capabilities convenient for late night help, but they offer callers options during business hours - DIY or agent assistance. Customers will appreciate having choices, and many will opt to self-serve.
Additionally, the enhanced call routing enabled by an IVR has a direct impact on customer satisfaction. Being matched to the best available agent will help ensure the caller's issue is resolved quickly and capably.
D = Dynamic
An IVR shouldn't be a “set it up and forget it” tool. Organizations that treat it that way aren't realizing the full potential of their IVR solution. Rather, it needs to be optimized regularly. This typically involves a continuous cycle of analysis (ex., where are callers dropping out of the system?), improvements, and measuring the improvement results. Even if an organization set up the IVR perfectly during implementation, business conditions change and the IVR needs to reflect those changes.
And speaking of changing conditions, an IVR can help with communications during a crisis. For example, if call volume spikes because the business's website is down, the business can change their upfront message to acknowledge they're working on it and to provide an estimate of when it will be fixed.
Organizations should design their IVR strategy with these qualities in mind. An IVR can be a powerful tool when used correctly.