When Voice Came to the IVR System
July 06, 2011
By Tracey E. Schelmetic
, TMCnet Contributor
While IVR – interactive voice response – has never been anyone's favorite technology, there's a reason it's still around after several decades: the technology's drawbacks are far outweighed by its benefits.
Even in their most rudimentary form – touch-tone IVR systems (“press one for billing, two for sales”) helped companies route calls at the front end while keeping the human head count down in the contact center, and helped calls reach the right place.
Time has marched on, and today's IVRs solutions bear little resemblance to old-fashioned IVR systems. There's a reason for that: older IVR systems that use only telephone tones, requiring the caller to press buttons to navigate through fixed menus, are frustrating, slow and limiting.
So what has happened to turn IVR solutions from a hated technology to a helpful one as far as customers are concerned? The human voice as an input mode, for starters. In a new white paper called “Four Trends Changing the IVR Landscape,” Interact Inc. makes the case for speech-enabling IVR solutions.
With the rise of the VoiceXML (News - Alert) standard, many enterprise solutions, including the IVR, have been able to take human-computer interaction to the next level, eliminating many of the traditional annoyances of touch-tone input into “dumb” machines. CCXML, a standard related to VXML, serves as a language to control how phone calls are placed, answered, transferred and conference. Together, these two standards can help provide a 100 percent standards solution for any voice application using telephony as access.
VoiceXML-based IVR solutions enable speech synthesis and speech recognition input, an alternative callers are far more receptive to. Instead of feeling like an inflexible, one-way input, speech-enabled IVRs help customers realize that the process is two-way, responsive to their needs and infinitely more “intelligent” than previous generations of solutions.
The ability to create speech-enabled IVR menus brings a host of benefits to the customer. Phone (News - Alert) button presses are replaced by speech recognition where the computer “understands” and then directs the call and/or provides information. Interact believes that the value of this feature, already high for any company, escalates even further when the transaction is complex. Imagine making an airline or rental car reservation via button presses alone, says the company. The clear benefit of speech recognition is reduced time making your reservation (imagine having to input “Albuquerque” via touch-tone!), and far greater user satisfaction.
The benefits aren't just one-sided to the customer, says Interact. With quicker, more efficient transactions, companies tie up fewer resources, which means that speech-enabled IVR solutions can handle an increased call load, reducing the amount of basic information requests that must be handled by live agents in the call center.
Additional features come along with the integration of voice and data in the IVR, as well.
Text to speech. While old-fashioned IVR input was just that – one-way input – speech-enabled IVRs can “speak” to the caller, by converting data to the spoken word: a computer can “read” information back to the caller over the phone, providing a “bridge” between the customer and a nearly infinite amount of data.
Speech to text. Using today's voice-enabled IVR solutions, the spoken word – think voice mail – can be converted quickly to text and displayed on a computer or smart-phone device.
IVR isn't just inbound. While many companies think of IVR as an inbound-only technology, this is not the case. IVR solutions can be configured to make outbound calls, in case of emergency notifications, doctor's appointment reminders, prescription pick-up notifications and airline cancellation/change notices, for example. The outbound call can even take inbound input from the caller who might, for example, want to change reservations after he or she receives notification that a flight was canceled. Additionally, voice-enabled IVR can be used in conjunction with predictive dialing to become an effective outbound sales tool.
Frustration-proof interactions. With earlier generation touch-tone interaction, if a caller made a wrong choice, or asked to be routed to an individual who didn't exist (or misspelled the name), the system would often “lock up” and either disconnect the caller or lead him or her in frustrating circles. Today's voice-enabled solutions can lead callers out of the mire, asking for clarification, requesting he or she make a different choice, or “guessing” at what the caller wants by asking for hints. (As in, “There is no one by that name. I'll try to find the best person for you to speak with. Can you speak the name of the department you are seeking?”)
Surveying. While post-call surveys were once a laborious process that usually involved a third-party dialing customers days or weeks later to collect feedback, voice-enabled IVR solutions can be turned into instant surveying tools, often able to collect information from callers via voice (and easily turning it into actionable data) before the caller has even hung up on the transaction.
The great benefit of VoiceXML is its flexibility: companies can design applications that conduct a dialog with the user and adapt the communication flow to the current situation, says Interact. For example, if the caller does not tell the computer all the required information, the computer asks for the missing pieces of information. Reciprocally, the caller can tell the computer more information in a single step, reducing the overall time of the call and, more importantly, reduces user frustration.
The secret to pleasing – instead of annoying – your customers and boosting customer satisfaction is a cutting-edge voice-enabled IVR solution combined with a well designed dialog interface with adequate capacity.
Fore more information, visit http://www.iivip.com/.Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Juliana Kenny