IVR or interactive voice response allows computers and humans to interact with one another via voice and keypad inputs, known as dual-tone-multi-frequency (DTMF) tones. IVR is used in telecommunications to enable interaction between customers and a company’s host system.
An IVR system gives customers a series of options from which the customer can select by either repeating a word or hitting a number on their phone. The IVR system can also respond back to customers via pre-recorded or even dynamically generated audio.
IVR systems are often used to both receive large call volumes as well as to perform outbound calls, especially as IVR systems are more intelligent than most predictive dialer systems.
A History of IVR
IVR technology saw increased usage in the 1970s, although the technology was still considered too expensive to automate call centres. The earliest voice response systems used Digital Signal Processing-based technology and were limited to small vocabularies.
Leon Ferber released Perception Technology in the 1980s, which became the first mainstream market competitor to hard drive technology. At this time, the system was capable of storing digitised speech on a disk, playing a corresponding spoken message and processing DTMF responses.
Call centres began to move towards multimedia in the late 1990s which prompted investment in computer telephony integration with IVR systems. Following this investment, IVR became essential for call centres, in terms of universal queuing and routing solutions. It also acted as an agent to collect customer data and make intelligent routing decisions.
Continued improvement in the technology also allowed for speaker-independent voice recognition instead of the use of DTMG signalling on behalf of the user. Increased CPU power and the migration to VXML standard from proprietary code have made IVR cheaper and cheaper for company adoption.
The Benefits of Using IVR
As with all technology, improvements have dropped prices leading to wide-scale adoption, so what are the benefits for businesses that adopt IVR?
Improved Customer Service
With IVR systems, there is a reduced need to place clients in a call queue, meaning clients feel as though they are receiving better levels of customer service. IVR systems can field incredibly large volumes of callers, so a quick response is always possible.
Current technology means the responses can be detailed, informative and time-efficient. All the caller has to do is follow the instructions and they can usually find the answer they are looking for.
Gain 24/7 Access
In the digital age, companies must have a 24-hour presence. With IVR your round-the-clock presence isn’t just confined to your webpage, you can actually take customer calls without paying for expensive manpower.
This can act as a complement to the personal service you provide within business hours and ensure your clients can access at least some of your services at their convenience.
Provide Personalised Service
A little-known aspect of IVR is that it actually allows for increased personalisation of the customer experience. Systems can be modified and programmed to include personalised greetings based on client or caller ID information.
You can even go a step further and have it programmed to wish the caller a happy birthday if they happen to call on that day, or any other special occasion.
Companies with a global reach benefit greatly from IVR, as most can be programmed in several languages meaning one system can be used to field calls from your entire global marketplace.
Improve Company Image
Start-ups and small businesses can create a more professional image by incorporating IVR. Callers exposed to an IVR system will be under the impression that the company is large and busy enough to warrant the use of a response system. This could be crucial in establishing your business’ image.
Larger companies will also benefit from IVR as they will be able to offer a more consistent and standardised form of customer care and communication.
You could miss significant profits if your company can only take sales calls in business hours. With IVR, customers can still purchase products and services without having to talk to a salesperson or receptionist. Not only do you increase sales but you improve profit margins by saving on labour costs.
Call routing via CTI is an essential aspect of IVR, and it increases workplace productivity. Callers are automatically routed to the correct department or staff member, which saves an enormous amount of time. This function can also be used to prioritise calls.
Remove Human Error
Your entire call fielding process will be error-free with IVR. Even the most experienced and talented receptionist or call desk system will be prone to error, especially under high call volumes. With IVR, customers will always be directed to the right place.
A New Frontier? Visual IVR
Visual IVR is beginning to stake out a position in the IVR sector. This has the power to make IVR even more beneficial for both the client and the business. Voice and digital media capabilities are combined, so customers can use their smartphones or tablets to select from a visual menu, instead of being talked through each option.
The visual menu parallels the stage of a customer call, acting as a complementary service to the IVR journey and improving the self-service experience.