Why You Should Use IVR

This is a no-brainer. This is perhaps the most important peripheral technology you can implement. Depending on the application, you can siphon off from 20% to as much as 60% of your calls, or even more. There’s no part of the customer interaction that isn’t helped by the interactivity. The whole thing operates more smoothly because you’ve obtained some facilitating information from the caller. Sometimes that’s nothing more than just a call’s purpose — sales or service, Windows or Mac.
Add a note hereIf you can get them to input their account number, you are armed with a database extract, and instantly you’ve created a CTI application that can bring rich screens full of information to the agent desktop.
Add a note hereOr you can deliver that information directly to the caller, no agent necessary, and improve your cost structure even more. Call centers are constantly caught between two contradictory imperatives: reduce costs and improve service. IVR is like a gift from the gods for both sides of that equation.
Add a note hereThe fact that IVR is bundled with (or easily added on to) almost every switch sold in the last five years should make it an even easier decision. But if you still need convincing, here are a few thoughts.
Add a note hereIVR is widely accepted by callers. As the technology has matured, there has been more emphasis on correct implementation. Like eliminating “voice mail jail,” that annoying state wherein callers can’t press zero and exit the system. When badly designed scripts are eliminated, callers like the result.
Add a note hereIVR keeps your call center open 24 hours a day. Start from the assumption that you’re never going to be able to hire as many staff as you’d like. Training costs are high, and with turnover high also, you’ve always got to have inexperienced reps in the pipeline. IVR can take the sting out of that process by giving callers an option during periods of unexpected high volume. And it’s effective. IVR gives caller a nice impression of your company when they can get information at 2 a.m. IVR never calls in sick, takes vacations, breaks or lunch.
Add a note hereYou can also use an IVR system to make handling calls easier for agents. One vendor’s IVR system lets callers listen to company offerings, and when they hear something they would like to order or book, they just say “agent” and the system connects them to a live agent. Agents then hear an excerpt of what the caller expressed interest in so they know how to handle the call.
Add a note hereIVR can increase call volume. In one application over a six month period the call volume handled increased more than five times (from 30,000 to over 150,000 calls per month) At the same time, the number of messages left for agents remained relatively constant.
Add a note hereAs voice processing systems take over more calls, the pie grows as well. These systems seem to create their own traffic. This causes problems for businesses that try to cost-justify IVR purchases through the number of staff positions they will be able to cut, because as an effective application creates new and better service, people will use more of it.
Add a note hereIt’s important to remember, with all this talk about cost savings and being open 24/7, that IVR can’t replace humans, it can only assist them. In a well-designed IVR implementation, you’ve automated the transactions that can be easily done, leaving call center agents with the calls that require human skill and intellect. Some companies have gotten into trouble by trying to handle all calls through technology. The experts say that this is just not possible. Some calls will always require the kind of assistance that only a human being can offer.
Add a note hereDon’t think of IVR as an all-or-nothing situation. Just because a system can do something doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time.
Add a note hereIVR is cost-effective. Call center managers tell us an IVR system pays for itself in less than a year. That makes sense when you consider the number of questions it can answer without the aid of a rep. Most of the questions it answers are routine inquiries that would eat up valuable agent time. With IVR, agents can be left to handle only the more complicated questions or the callers who request a live agent.
Add a note hereWhat also makes IVR cost-effective is its flexibility. With most systems you can start small and just add lines as call volume grows. It’s not uncommon, for example, to find that systems are bundled with pre-built software “templates” that you can snap together to create applications which you can then update when your needs change.
Add a note hereIt gives callers control. Callers have options with IVR. They can press a key to reach the department they need, hold for a live agent, or get what they need without having to speak to a rep. A note of caution, though: during working hours, make sure callers can get out of the IVR system to reach a live operator. It’s nothing but frustrating to press 0 trying to get a live voice and instead being disconnected or forced to listen to voice prompts again.
Add a note hereNot having a live operator available is only acceptable during after hours. In such a case voice prompts should announce something like “Thank you for calling XYZ company. While no one can take your call during these hours, you can press one to hear information on A, two to get information on B faxed,” and so forth. A final prompt should announce “Press 5 if you would like to leave a message for a return phone call during office hours. Thank you for calling.”
Add a note hereYou can create special temporary applications. You can tie your IVR system into advertising campaigns. Each month you can offer different specials. Run an advertisement on television, in a newspaper or even in the yellow pages. Then, when callers reach the IVR system you can have a menu choice directly related to your ad.
Add a note hereWhen the special ends, you can return voice prompts back to normal. The benefit is that a large volume of callers gets fast, consistent information without bombarding your agents.

Interactive Voice Response

If the call center is the front door to your company, then interactive voice response is the doorbell.

Simply put, interactive voice response (or IVR, as it’s more widely known) is an automated system for collecting information from callers. It’s a customer-oriented front-end for your call center. That is, it’s a computer system that lets callers enter information in response to questions, either through a telephone keypad or the spoken word. The caller then gets some kind of information back from the system through a recorded (and digitized) voice or a synthesized voice. They can also get that information back through a connected fax system, or a website. How the information is delivered is less important than the fact that the customer can arrive, input and review data at any time, even when your center is unstaffed.

Whatever you can do with a computer, you can do with IVR. Customers can retrieve virtually any kind of data — from account balances to the weather in Chicago to the location of the nearest movie theater.

The benefits are vast. The telephone is familiar to everyone. It already has a worldwide network. Accessing information by telephone lets anyone interact with the computer from anywhere in the world. It also cuts down on the need for agents — especially when repetitive questions and answers are involved. Not only do you save on personnel costs, but also you are more likely to keep the agents you like, because their job is less boring.

Used as a front-end for an ACD, an IVR system can ask questions (such as, “what’s your product serial code?”) that help routing and enable more intelligent and informed call processing (by people or automatic systems). IVR far supersedes more rudimentary technologies (such as Caller ID) in such applications.

At one time there were no choices in how to implement it. You bought a dedicated box, integrated it with your ACD and the vendor would work with you to design your applications. Eventually you’d be up and running. So much has changed since those not-so-good old days.

The benefits today? Well for one, the market is truly open. For the most part, any ACD can integrate with any IVR system.

There are tools you can buy that let you design the system you want, called application generators, or app gens. These tools are simply software requiring industry-standard boards. Using these tools eliminates or greatly reduces reliance on IVR vendors. Such reliance (and it could get quite costly) used to be the only way to get up and running or to make program changes — unless you had knowledgeable well-paid programmers working for you. Now set-up has become inexpensive and almost simplistic.

When application generators first came out, the programming had to be done in DOS. Now everything is Windows, and development is graphical, so you don’t need to be a programmer or telephony expert.

Even if you buy a ready-made standalone system, many vendors have developed enhanced, easy-to-use developing tools (such as GUI voice editors) to make it simpler than ever to be up and running, or to make changes to the program on the fly.