What is Interactive Voice Response (IVR)?

A Definition of Interactive Voice Response

Interactive voice response (IVR) is an automated telephone system that interacts with callers and gathers information about the purpose of the call to route callers to the appropriate individual or department. In response to automated queries, callers enter information using either voice or by making selections from pre-determined options using their touch-tone telephone keypads. Interactive voice response systems dramatically improve call center efficiency by accurately routing calls to the most appropriate departments or staff to handle caller inquiries and by gathering important background details before an agent takes over the call.

How IVR Works

IVR relies on pre-recorded questions and responses for interacting with callers, providing information (such as a caller’s current account balance or recent transactions), and handing off calls to appropriate human personnel when necessary. IVR prompts callers to select from pre-determined options or enter unique information using either voice or touch-pad responses. IVR improves efficiency by:

  • Discovering the purpose of the call
  • Gathering key information from callers (account numbers, verification of account ownership, and other details)
  • Routing calls automatically to the correct department or agent group
  • Segmenting calls by priority or need, such as routing the most pressing or challenging calls to the most qualified agents, known as skills-based routing
  • Providing important background information to agents such as the purpose of the call, the caller’s identity, account numbers, account status, and more
  • Enabling companies to automatically supply agents with procedural steps to resolving the issues identified by IVR

Benefits of Interactive Voice Response

IVR systems are often used to determine the purpose of a call, subsequently routing callers to relevant departments for rapid issue resolution and prompt service. Staff who answer routed calls view the information callers provide to the automated system on a display screen, enabling them to quickly identify the caller’s need and access information necessary to resolve the caller’s query or concern.

Inaccurate call routing, such as routing tech support calls to the billing department, is a major source of waste among businesses that rely on call centers to support various aspects of operations. Average talk time can be drastically reduced by more efficient call routing to the appropriate department or agent groups using IVR.

When used in conjunction with other technologies such as speech analytics, IVR enables companies to discover trends that aren’t always obvious to supervisors performing random call monitoring in the traditional sense. These insights enable companies to respond readily to common problems with products or services and take proactive steps to resolve similar issues for other customers.

For instance, an uptick in customer service calls related to customer difficulties using a certain feature in a software application may be resolved with an update to a Frequently Asked Questions resource or a tutorial. If the IVR system is updated accordingly to direct future callers with the same issue to these resources, IVR can be used to completely circumvent human intervention in similar cases going forward.

Additionally, IVR enables companies to provide agents with the necessary knowledge to address customer issues. When IVR identifies the purpose of a customer’s call, other systems can be triggered to bring up the appropriate information from a knowledge base to aid agents in walking through the appropriate steps to call resolution.

By prioritizing calls based on importance and need, companies are able to increase the rate of first-call resolution and cut down on both talk and hold times by reducing the need for repeated transfers that often occur when the first agent isn’t qualified to address a caller’s specific need. This, in turn, increases customer satisfaction by allowing businesses to rapidly resolve issues and handle calls with ease and efficiency.

Challenges and Best Practices for Interactive Voice Response

While IVR saves call center staff time they’d otherwise spend determining the reason for a caller’s contact and routing the call to the most appropriate department, IVR can be frustrating for callers. This is largely due to IVR systems that don’t include comprehensive pre-recorded responses to address all possible scenarios, leaving callers to select options that aren’t in line with the purpose of their call in order to reach a human representative.

To overcome this issue, companies should regularly update IVR systems with pre-recorded responses to accommodate the changing needs of callers with up-to-date menu options in line with current trends and common issues. It’s also considered good practice to provide a simple way for callers to bypass the IVR system and reach a human representative for urgent situations or for situations not otherwise addressed by the existing options and responses in the system. This is often achieved by allowing callers to dial “0” to reach an agent or representative, or as the final option in a series of possible selections (e.g., “For all other callers, please press 0.”).

To maximize the benefits of IVR, many companies utilize these automated systems as an extension of self-service for customers. When a caller indicates a troubleshooting need, for instance, IVR systems can be used to direct callers to relevant content in a self-service knowledge base to avoid the need for human intervention in some calls.

Finally, every call center understands that certain customers are more challenging to satisfy than others. By utilizing technologies such as predictive behavioral routing, historical interactions are analyzed with individual customers and when certain callers are identified through IVR, they can be routed automatically to the agents best-equipped to resolve issues with callers matching a certain personality style, increasing the odds of successful outcomes from every customer interaction.

What call center challenges can your company overcome by implementing IVR?


How to Fund Speech Analytics & Maximize Its Business Value
Over the past two decades the number of touch points has grown exponentially. These included social media, mobile applications, and live chat. The past decade, in particular, brought a substantial increase in not only the adoption, but also the frequency of use of these touch-points within customer experience management (CEM) programs. Despite these changes, phone and interactive voice response (IVR) remained as the touch-points companies use most widely to serve clients – phone: 97% and IVR: 82%.

aberdeen how to fund speech analytics

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Posted in Call Center Best Practices

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