Interactive voice response (IVR) is an automated system that answers incoming calls and provides instructions to customers, who are then able to interact via keypad or voice recognition to speak with an agent or troubleshoot issues. IVR has been a staple of contact centers (and the customer service they provide) for many years. While its requiem has been composed many times in the past, it is still around, alive and kicking. Together with its “big brother”, the voice portal, IVRs have been part of contact center solutions for decades, and there is no reason to believe that they will go away any time soon.
In case you wondered: Interactive voice response and voice portal are similar, but not the same. They are often differentiated by the fact that a voice portal is expected to support automated speech recognition (ASR) and text-to-speech (TTS); IVR may only support dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF, aka touch-tone®).
The fact that IVRs have been around for a long time and are widely used does not mean, though, that your customers actually like them. In fact, NICE research has found that IVR fares worst among all Self-Service channels in terms of Customer Experience (CX). However, there are ways for an Interactive voice response (IVR) system to be successful and achieve the cost and time savings expected.
Optimize Routing by Enabling Self-Service
The advantages of IVRs for call centers are well known. Front-end IVR allows the collection of data from the caller, which enables you to optimize routing and—once the caller is connected to an agent—personalize the interaction. Offloading interactions from costly agent-assisted voice calls to the IVR will reduce call volume for your agents, which in turn helps reduce queue times. It is also beneficial as agents can dedicate more time to complex or emotional interactions that require the “human touch”. IVRs can also help improve agent satisfaction – agents feel relief when not having to answer the same simple question ten times in a row.
Offload Routine Interactions
For customers, scalable IVRs reduce hold times and make simple services accessible 24/7/365. Some customers (in particular Millennials and GenZ) actually prefer self-service over speaking with an agent, in particular when their request involves finding information or executing simple tasks such as resetting a password. It is worth noting though, that those interactions are preferably executed via web-self-service / mobile apps / bots and virtual assistants; however, IVRs can play a role there, too; in particular, when the IVR ties seamlessly into other – digital – channels such as SMS/text, or even email.
Don’t “Hide” Behind Your IVR
Lastly, make sure you steer clear of the pitfalls of IVR deployment. Customer’s pet peeves include complexity, with confusing layers over layers of options, or any type of hold – especially for self-service. Do remember that it is important to give customers other options, including speaking to an agent; do not leave them “stranded” in the IVR. And don’t forget: review your IVR reporting so you can understand what works well, and improve what does not.
Artificial Intelligence in the IVR
A trend that WILL influence the IVR / voice portal market and usage is artificial intelligence (AI) – expect to see more usage of that in conjunction with IVRs over the coming years. AI is finding its place in our personal life with – depending on your operating system preference – Siri, Google Now or Cortana taking on the role of intelligent digital personal assistants. But AI is starting to play a role in shaping the customer experience, too. Just think of NICE Real Time Personalization. In the future you may use it’s predictive analytics and machine learning to transform the terabytes of data from every customer interaction into finely-tuned responses relevant to each individual using your IVR. Like many trends that first caught on in personal interactions, the trend is starting to migrate to the contact center. More and richer integrations are simply a question of time.