Exceptional CX will drive 87% of customers to buy more products and 81% of them to recommend your company. Businesses can gain a competitive edge by understanding how to meet consumers’ demands. When it comes to making investments in customer service improvements, it’s hard to beat the transformational power of conversational AI for a better customer experience in the contact center. In this blog post, we’ll dig into conversational AI – what does it mean for IVR and why businesses should care.
“Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed…”
Ugh! Hearing these words makes my eyes roll. I don’t mean to complain, but…well, it’s just that it’s a big pet peeve of mine to get stuck in a complicated maze of options…Press 2 for this, Press 10 for that. If it goes on for too long, I inevitably lose track and must start over. Am I the only one who desperately presses “0” in hopes of skipping the madness and speaking to someone for (hopefully!) faster service? To be honest, I breathe a little sigh of relief whenever I get to avoid that kind of old-school experience, don’t you?
At its most basic, an interactive voice response (IVR) is an automated system that answers incoming calls and provides instructions to customers. Most contact centers have some sort of IVR system in place that typically serves to route calls. It’s been a key part of the contact center toolkit for many years. Some IVRs offer a means of self-serving simple calling needs, such as getting general information or accessing account balances, but the latest consumer research has me wondering whether that’s enough to keep customers satisfied.
What consumers think of your old-school IVR
According to customers surveyed worldwide, maybe it’s not enough. If callers frequently hang up on your IVR, don’t take it personally but here’s something worth noting: recent CX research found that over 25% of consumers report dissatisfaction with automated phone menus – yet over one-third of businesses believe their customers love it. Hmmm… apparently, not so! In other words, customers may not be as delighted about navigating your IVR system as you think. And we all know, when customers are not happy, you risk losing their business. In the case of a frustrating IVR experience, it might mean they may hang up or decide to give up on doing business with you altogether, or worse, they start the conversation with your agent yelling at him/her. Yikes!
But what if your IVR could sing?
With customer service such an integral part of an organization’s success, businesses are beginning to recognize the value of implementing artificial intelligence (AI) technology in their contact centers.
The latest business projections are predicting that the global artificial intelligence market will reach $99 billion in 2023, so it’s no surprise that the wave of new transformative technologies is still going strong. With the success and popularity of Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa, conversational AI has become all the rage in customer experience innovation. In another post, I talked about consumers driving the demand for self-service options that just didn’t exist a few years ago. “Consumers don’t care where they get answers… they just want answers. Organizations that assume their customers only want to talk to their agents are getting left in the dust.” (Read more in “Contact Center Automation: From Nice-to-Have to Necessity”)
Investing in new technology is all about the value-add. When it comes to IVR, conversational AI is poised to fill the need with advanced voice interfaces, such as voice bots that use natural language understanding (NLU) to recognize what a caller is saying and respond with appropriate options. It means a better customer service experience and faster service.
What is conversational IVR and why businesses should care
Conversational IVR is advanced contact center software that understands natural language (vs a series of commands). It takes auto-attendants and IVRs to the next level by enabling more human-like interactions with natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence, and machine learning (ML). With AI-powered conversational IVR, customers can interact with speech-enabled voice self-service when they call a company.
See the difference?
This short video highlights how advances in AI and automation are powering customer service to new levels with conversational AI-powered chat bots and IVR that deliver a seamless, highly personalized and vastly superior customer experience from end to end.
5 reasons to consider conversational IVR
With today’s conversational IVR capabilities, there’s really no need for long complicated phone menus. Look for integrated AI capabilities in your IVR, like Automated Speech Recognition (ASR), Text-to-Speech (TTS) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to offer better, more intuitive options that make it easy for your customers to get the help they want, when they want it, by just saying what they need.
Here are 5 great reasons to consider leveraging AI capabilities in your contact center IVR.
Reason 1: Achieve automation goals – and customer satisfaction too.
Not only can AI-powered IVRs handle calls that a traditional IVR menu wasn’t designed to address, but the best conversational IVRs enable a more free-form service experience for customers, who aren’t bound to a specific menu script. AI-powered IVRs are more convenient and better at guiding customers toward the right self-service resolution, instead of always involving time with an agent (even though you always want to keep that option open – see tip below). With conversational IVR, you can add automation gains without compromising an ounce of CX (Learn more in this post).
Tip: As a best practice, always ensure that you provide your customers with a seamless “way out” of your automated system (voice or chat bot) at any point. Whenever “elevation” to agent assistance is needed, you can integrate your CRM data to immediately provide the agent with all the data that was collected via the IVR for full context and personalized attention (with no need for the caller to repeat their details or request). Letting customers request “live assistance” at any point in their interaction enables you to offer multiple resolution options that feel seamless and provide for an improved customer experience.
Reason 2: More accurate customer routing than traditional IVR.
If your IVR menu is too long and callers do not bother listening to it to pick the right option (e.g. they press “0” to by-pass the menu), it’s a good chance that they may be routed to the wrong agent or department. Of course, this means transferring to another agent which frustrates the customer (possibly leaving them to wait ‘on hold’ in a different queue) and ultimately impacts your metrics (such as handle time).
Instead, conversational IVR can understand and handle many, many more intents and facilitate immediate routing that results in fewer agent transfers, faster service, and a better experience for both customers and agents. Tip: If customer experience is a top priority in your organization, build your business case to modernize your IVR by tying your project to a strategic CX initiative in organization. (Check out this on-demand webinar for tips on building your business case)
Reason 3: Leverage what you already have.
If you’ve already implemented an IVR, at the very least, you need to know that it’s important to do a periodic review (this post is full of tips for refreshing your IVR to make life easier for customers). Next, why not make your IVR sing? The best contact center software allows you to augment with AI capabilities without having to ‘rip and replace’ what you already have. You can browse dozens of pre-integrated AI applications available on our CXexchange marketplace, featuring NICE DEVone partners, such as Omilia and SmartAction, with conversational AI voice and chat bot options for a wide range of business use cases and verticals – banking/finance, insurance, retail, healthcare, and more.
Reason 4: The technology has arrived, the designs are improving, and the price tag is lower.
The days of expensive and limited IVR and chatbots are dying out. While there are bad solutions all over the place just like any other technology field, enterprises are finding the right vendors and creating carefully crafted experiences. For modern businesses – from contact center automation has gone from ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘essential service’.
Reason 5: Conversational provides a better customer service experience.
If your business has invested a significant amount of time and energy to hire highly skilled contact center agents and made substantial investments in contact center technology used to handle customer interactions, but still struggles to move the needle on your CSAT…what should your contact center do?
Whether you are implementing an IVR for the first time or looking for new ways to boost your customer experience, it’s a good idea to consider augmenting your IVR with conversational capabilities that welcome and direct callers naturally – rather than turn them off with a frustrating experience.
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