Interactive Voice Response Systems: How They've Changed the Landscape of Customer Support

by in Contact Center Solutions, Industry, Technology

Customer support has been evolving lately, especially when it comes to contact centers. We're now seeing innovative developments in Interactive Voice Response (IVR), automation, and even video call integrations. These innovations are mainly a result of businesses realizing that quality customer service plays a major role in acquiring and retaining customers. Fortunately, a majority of customers feel that customer service is getting better. A 2018 PwC study reported that customers will pay up to 16% more for products and services from companies that provide good customer experience. Another 2017 study found that good customer experience is key to customer retention and 44% of consumers become repeat buyers after personalized experiences.

Your call center plays a critical role in a successful customer experience. If you provide personalized call center customer service and a smooth, frictionless experience, you'll more likely succeed in delighting your customers. A great way to improve your call center experience is with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. This software helps ensure that your customers find the information they need as quickly and accurately as possible.

Here are the basics of IVR and how it plays a significant role in providing top-notch customer experiences.

 

IVR and AI in the call center graphic

What is an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system?

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated telephony menu system that interacts with callers and routes them to relevant recipients using voice commands or touch-tone keypad selection. Designed to assist customers or route calls without a live operator, these responses are either pre-recorded or virtually generated in the form of voice, callback, email, etc. 

6 things an IVR does

An IVR system helps give your customers a superior experience in many ways. Here are some of the most important functions of an IVR:

1. Collect customer information

The first step to routing a call to the right agent is collecting information about the caller's needs. An IVR gathers information about the caller, such as the particular product or service they need help with and the type of support they need. 

2. Route calls to agents

Once the IVR collects the caller info, it can route them to the agent or department most qualified to meet their needs. This optimizes the performance of each call by separating the callers on the basis of their needs and then navigating the call to the right agent or automated response. This reduces customer wait times and ensures they're routed to the right agent without error.

3. Answer simple questions

Not all customer issues or needs require human intervention. Basic things like account information, common details about your business, frequently asked questions, and more can be answered through pre-recorded responses. This reduces the load on your agents and frees them up to answer more complex issues, resulting in faster resolution and more efficient customer service.

4. Automate customer support

An IVR lets customers solve certain issues without speaking to a customer service agent. You can pre-record responses to FAQs and solutions to other common problems and the caller can navigate to a solution. Allowing customers to get immediate solutions that don't require an agent reduces wait times. Services that can be automated include FAQs, payments, tracking orders, and checking account status.

5. Conduct surveys

Surveys are a great way to get feedback from your customers and make business decisions based on the input. An IVR can help you collect feedback in real time with simple surveys at the end of their interaction. Keep IVR surveys short and ask the most important question first in case the caller drops off. Also, many IVRs can record callers' voices, so you can ask open-ended questions to get more detailed feedback.

6. Implement marketing promotions

Customer support is not the only benefit of an IVR. You can use it for market promotions and sales as well. When inbound calls come in, you can introduce special offers or promote new products or services while the caller is waiting to be routed. Another innovative way to use an IVR is to leverage it in integrated marketing campaigns. Add an IVR phone number to an advertisement so prospects can call to enter contests, redeem an offer, or take a survey. Then relay your marketing message during the call.

9 benefits of installing an IVR system

IVR systems offer several benefits, from faster issue resolution to improving your brand image. Here are nine of the most useful perks: 

Faster response times

Speed is a top priority for consumers looking to buy or ask a question about a product or service. 90% of customers consider an immediate response important or very important when looking for customer support. An IVR system can speed up the support process with self-service menus. Reduce response times by automating answers to simple questions and accurately routing other callers to agents. They can even schedule callbacks so customers can skip the queue altogether.

More accurate agent routing and answers

IVRs prompt customers to specify their needs by choosing options from a menu using their keypad or voice. This helps accurately route them to the department best equipped to answer their questions. For simple queries, the IVR can direct them to pre-recorded responses. 

Lower resolution times

Customers increasingly expect an immediate resolution. 67% of customer churn can be prevented if their issues are resolved at the first interaction. An IVR significantly increases the chances of fast resolution because callers are directed to the most appropriate agent or department, cutting down the need to transfer to another rep. For queries that don't need human intervention, pre-recorded responses and automation exponentially speed up the resolution.

Higher customer satisfaction

An easy-to-use, reliable IVR ensures that customers are always directed to the right department or agent. This accuracy, combined with the IVR's quick and automated responses, helps the customer feel well attended to. Because they're automated, IVRs always answer on the first ring and are available 24x7, even during holidays and breaks. All this makes for improved experience and satisfaction.

Lower operational costs

IVR systems perform numerous repetitive tasks on their own, cutting down on the number of support reps needed. Increased efficiency through accurate call routing and reduced waiting times cuts operational costs drastically, both due to higher productivity and fewer employees. In fact, a recent report by ContactBabel showed that six or seven self-service IVR calls cost about the same as a single person-to-person call.

Better customer service efficiency

With an IVR, customers can be directed to highly qualified agents with specific skillsets and expertise. Through data collection, call routing can be customized and agents are less likely to transfer the call to another agent. 

24x7 availability

Always on, IVRs allow customers to contact your customer support at any time. Even if you don't have live reps available, customers can still contact your IVR and get answers to simple questions or even schedule callbacks with agents. This helps during non-office hours, holidays and breaks. 

Greater personalization

IVRs can improve customer relationships by giving them a personalized experience. Program it with unique greetings for known callers, addressing them by name, or even wishing them a happy birthday. IVR systems come with multi-language capabilities you can customize.

Improved company image

Small businesses can use IVR to appear larger than they really are. Automation helps build a professional image for your brand. For larger businesses, an IVR shows stability and consistency in customer support. The more intuitive your IVR is, the more impressed some customers will be.

The IVR flow: How a call gets answered

IVRs work just like any phone call. The only difference is that it's automated and allows for self-service options. Here's what a typical IVR flow looks like:

  • A call comes in. 
  • The IVR answers with an automated welcome message programmed on the backend.
  • After greeting the caller, the IVR provides the caller with a series of menu options.
  • The caller then chooses from these options to get connected to the answers they're seeking, either through pre-recorded messages or by routing to a customer service agent in a specific department or area of expertise.
  • If there's a queue, the customer may be put on hold briefly. Wait times are typically low due to the efficient call routing algorithms. 
  • The customer is routed to the correct agent.
  • The call center agent helps the customer with their question or issue resolution. 
  • If applicable, the IVR asks the customer to complete a short survey related to the quality of the call.

Enter conversational IVR

The emergence of AI and machine learning technology is bringing a new standard to common customer service interactions, particularly in the call center. Conversational IVR is one of the many innovations you’ve likely experienced from the accessibility of natural language processing in critical business products. With the ability to architect more human-like interactions and logic sequences in customer support channels, conversational IVR gives customers the opportunity to self-serve and find answers more quickly – raising expectations for the types of experiences that customers want and that product managers want to provide. 

How conversational IVR is different than standard IVR

Conversational IVR differs from standard IVR in many important ways for both the consumer and the customer service manager. At the solutions level, a conversational IVR system allows an operations architect to create workflows beyond the barriers of a traditional menu system or logic tree. In practical terms, this means a customer doesn’t have to answer a set of menu questions to find the answer to their issue, or get routed to a particular department, but can instead respond to prompts similar to a live agent. For instance, conversational IVR can be configured to work with more open-ended questions, such as “What can I help you with today?” or “Tell me what issue you are having.” It’s like Siri for your contact center.

Conversational IVR can also provide new levels of insights beyond what a traditional IVR system can provide. By allowing customers to engage more naturally with you, and removing the bounds of leading questions, you empower your customer service department to learn more about your customer needs in relation to time, season, and product releases. The contact center manager can then prepare, adapt, and scale service accordingly to ensure the best experience for your customers. 

Lifesize CxEngage IVR: A best of breed approach

Lifesize's CxEngage contact center solution employs a microservices architecture, which gives customers access to several innovative features. Similar to how you may enable a variety of plugins to a cloud application like CRM, ERP or CMS, there are many integrations that you can enable in CxEngage for your organization.

CxEngage’s integration with Omilia not only expands the product with conversational IVR features based on natural language processing and speech recognition, it also provides pre-packaged and configured miniApps for many popular verticals and languages that a contact center manager can use and deploy without any coding. Solutions like the xPert Packs come with ready-to-use Concept Annotation Dictionaries and rules that can drastically reduce the costs and time-to-market for your customer service upgrade. 

Another popular feature of CxEngage is its native visual IVR system, which allows customers to navigate IVR options on a mobile app. This boosts self-service capabilities and reduces the number of expensive calls your contact center has to take. It also appeals to a wider audience, including younger or more tech-savvy users who prefer using a mobile app over a traditional phone call.

By combining Lifesize CxEngage with Key IVR's Agent Assisted Payment solution, you can also offer secure payments (PCI-DSS Level 1 v3.2) as part of your call center interactions. Key IVR's Border platform allows contact center managers to build payment workflows for inbound, outbound, and warm transfer (or live agent hand-off) routes. This adds an essential layer of security to your enterprise's payments while providing operations with always available payment automation that can be scaled across the globe. 

IVR FAQs

Is IVR the same as ACD?

No. Interactive Voice Response is different from Automatic Call Distributor (ACD). IVR is a technology that helps customers get information from a phone system without an operator. ACD is a system that routes callers to agents based on preset rules. So when a customer calls a contact center, the IVR takes their information and directs them to the answer. If they need to speak to an agent, the ACD system will help route them to the right department. IVR and ACD are not the same, but they work together to provide a smooth experience to the caller.

Is IVR better than placing customers on hold?

People don't like to be put on hold. Nearly 60% of consumers hang up if they're put on hold for one minute or longer. An inefficient IVR is no better. A conversational, intuitive IVR, however, gives customers a good experience. Quality IVRs should be capable of routing calls accurately to the right agent and include benefits such as callback.  

Conclusion

If you want to boost your customer satisfaction and retention while keeping costs down, an IVR system is an essential call center strategy. But it has to be intuitive and reliable. Optimize your IVR and update it regularly to deliver superior customer service consistently.