Contact Center Glossary

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

What is IVR?

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology is an automated telephony system that enables interaction between callers and a computerized voice system via voice or keypad inputs. IVR systems are commonly used in call centers to handle a large volume of incoming calls and route them to the appropriate department or provide automated assistance to callers.

Pros of IVR technology in call centers:

  • Improved call routing
    IVR systems can efficiently route incoming calls to the appropriate department or agent based on caller inputs. This helps reduce the time callers spend waiting to be connected to the right person, improving overall customer experience.
  • Increased accessibility
    IVR systems provide 24/7 availability, allowing customers to access information and assistance at any time. This is particularly beneficial for businesses with a global customer base or those serving customers in different time zones.
  • Cost savings
    By automating certain tasks and reducing the need for human agents to handle every call, IVR systems can help businesses save on labor costs. IVR technology enables call centers to handle a higher call volume with fewer agents, increasing operational efficiency.
  • Call prioritization
    IVR systems can be programmed to prioritize certain types of calls based on predefined criteria. For example, urgent or high-priority calls can be quickly routed to live agents, while routine inquiries can be handled through automated responses, optimizing resource allocation.
  • Self-service options
    IVR systems provide self-service options that allow callers to retrieve information or perform certain actions without the need for human intervention. This can include tasks such as checking account balances, making payments, or obtaining order status updates. Self-service capabilities empower customers and reduce their dependency on live agents.

Cons of IVR technology in call centers:

  • Impersonal experience
    Some customers may find interacting with an automated system impersonal or frustrating, especially if they have complex or specific inquiries that require human assistance. IVR systems lack the personal touch and empathy that a live agent can provide, potentially leading to customer dissatisfaction.
  • Limited flexibility
    IVR systems are designed with predefined menu options and responses, which may not cover all possible customer queries. Customers with unique or complex inquiries may struggle to find suitable options within the IVR menu, leading to frustration and the need for agent intervention.
  • Language and accent limitations
    IVR systems rely on voice recognition technology to understand caller inputs. However, they may struggle with understanding accents or dialects that deviate from the system’s trained patterns. This can lead to misinterpretation of caller inputs and result in incorrect routing or unsatisfactory responses.
  • Lack of context and problem-solving abilities
    IVR systems are generally limited to providing pre-recorded responses or accessing predefined information. They lack the ability to interpret complex customer issues, provide nuanced solutions, or engage in dynamic problem-solving. This can be a drawback when customers require assistance beyond basic inquiries.
  • Negative customer perception
    In cases where IVR systems are poorly designed or implemented, or if customers are unable to find the information or assistance they need, it can create a negative perception of the company’s customer service. This can impact customer loyalty and satisfaction levels.

Overall, IVR technology offers several advantages for call centers, such as improved call routing, increased accessibility, cost savings, call prioritization, and self-service options. However, its limitations become very evident as it scales up with an increased workload.

The limitations listed above are ones that machines can overcome only with great difficulty, if at all. There is a need for human customer agents to understand and solve human problems. Well-trained people can contextualize customer issues, provide empathy instead of programmed responses, and can solve tricky problems without routing a customer from department to department.

The training that can develop these skills can come from an AI coaching platform, which gives a trainee or employee pathways to continual improvement. This platform mimics customer interactions, in all their human imperfections, to prepare agents to handle tricky issues. In short, it gives people the flexibility to be people.

IVR is a great augmentation to people-first customer service. The IVR systems can be designed with user-friendly interfaces and continuously be refined and updated the system based on customer feedback. Most importantly, they can offer easy access to live agents when needed. That’s how smart systems work together to the ultimate goal: problems that get resolved and customers who are satisfied.

How IVR works

  • Call Initiation
    A caller dials a phone number associated with an organization or business.
    The call is routed to the IVR system, typically through a phone exchange or a cloud-based IVR service.
  • Greeting
    The IVR system answers the call and greets the caller with a recorded message, often starting with something like “Welcome to XYZ Company.”
  • Menu and Prompts
    The IVR system presents the caller with a menu of options or prompts. These options are often numbered and correspond to various services or departments.
    The prompts can be prerecorded messages that instruct the caller to “Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Support,” or they can be generated dynamically using text-to-speech (TTS) technology.
  • Caller Input
    The caller responds by pressing the corresponding keys on their phone’s keypad or by speaking their choice.
    If the IVR system uses speech recognition, it will attempt to convert the caller’s spoken words into text to determine the desired option.
  • Processing
    The IVR system processes the input provided by the caller. This may involve recognizing DTMF (Dual-Tone Multi-Frequency) tones from keypresses or interpreting the caller’s spoken words.
    Based on the input, the IVR system determines the appropriate action to take, such as routing the call to a specific department, providing information, or performing a transaction.
  • Interaction
    The IVR system can engage in further interactions with the caller, such as asking additional questions, verifying information, or delivering requested information.
    It may also integrate with databases and backend systems to access and update information relevant to the caller’s request.
  • Call Routing
    Depending on the caller’s needs and the IVR’s capabilities, the call can be routed to a live agent or continue with automated assistance.
    If the caller selects an option that requires human intervention, the IVR system transfers the call to the appropriate department or agent.
  • Call Completion
    Once the caller’s request has been fulfilled or their issue resolved, the IVR system can provide closing information, such as a confirmation number, and end the call.

IVR systems can vary in complexity, with some offering advanced features like natural language processing (NLP) for more conversational interactions. They are used across various industries, including customer support, healthcare, banking, and more, to enhance the efficiency of phone-based interactions and improve customer service.

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