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IVR - The IVR Landscape: It's Changing
September 21, 2011

The IVR Landscape: It's Changing

By Bob Emmerson, TMC European Editor

IVR (interactive Voice Response) systems have become the standard way most companies answer incoming calls, with an automated attendant switching calls to requested end points.   However, it’s become the technology that we love to hate. It cuts costs for companies, but all too often callers get frustrated and hang up, so potential business is lost. 

We’ve all experienced the “Press 1 for sales, press 2 for technical support” dialog. Being put on hold and told that: “Your call is very important” compounds the frustration. If it was important why did it take so long to answer? And not being able to reach a real person is a joke.

These issues, and there are more, come from the deployment of first-generation, proprietary IVR systems that use only telephone tones, where the user navigates through a hierarchy of fixed menus via button presses to finally get the requested information or the desired result.  However, the advent of the VoiceXML (News - Alert) standards and IVRs that employ them, along with related standards, have enabled the creation of IVR systems that reduce the annoyance and frustration associated with computerized call handling.

VoiceXML was designed as a language to describe scenarios of human computer dialog. CCXML (Call Control XML) serves as a language to control how phone calls are handled, answered, transferred, etc. CCXML works hand in hand with VoiceXML to provide a 100 percent standards-compliant solution for voice applications that use telephony as the access medium.

The VoiceXML standards support speech synthesis and speech recognition technologies, which enable significant feature enhancements and higher user acceptance, i.e. voice application systems that can more effectively and more efficiently serve 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. And on the other side of the IVR system, companies are able to handle an increased call load.

In addition, VoiceXML brings easy access to corporate data. The integration of voice and data generates a variety of expanded applications that benefit businesses and users alike. For example:

  • Text to speech – converting data to be “read” over a phone device
  • Speech to text – voicemail conversion to text, displayed on computer or smart-phone devices
  • Automated information and reservation messaging
  • Emergency response and simultaneous multi-party communications

These applications and technologies bring automation and consequently time savings to call centers. Simple and repeated requests are handled automatically without human intervention taking automation rates in excess of 90 percent in most studied cases. Automated performance of any of those application examples, and there are many more, replaces the human element which results in a significant reduction in overhead costs.

With VoiceXML, one can design applications that conduct a dialog with the user and adapt the communication flow to the current situation. 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, minimizing user frustration. But — and it’s a big but — the key ingredients to customer satisfaction are a well-designed dialog interface with adequate capacity and performance in the system to execute the application.

The bottom line is that the caller gets the personal attention and relationship that was lost with the original IVR deployment. The caller “profile” can be integrated with the voice application so that the computer recognizes caller purchasing habits, buying preferences, payment methods and the like, all leading to increased customer satisfaction and retained business.


VoiceXML and CCXML technologies have changed the traditional thinking of automated telephony and voice systems, bringing standardization flexibility, and interoperability to telecommunication and networks. Because of the integration of text-to-speech, speech-to-text and Web-enabled functionality, IVRs are evolving to serve much broader applications and markets. At the same time, next generation IVRs are driving costs and infrastructure dramatically lower. Result: a win-win for companies and users alike.

For more information and technical details go to where you can find Interact’s Engine Product Brief as well as a Performance White Paper (News - Alert). You can also register and employ the Test Portal and test out the Engine on your application.

Also contributing to this article was Chris Buffum, director of Sales at Interact Inc.

Bob Emmerson (News - Alert) is TMC's European Editor. To stay abreast of the latest news affecting the European market, check out Bob's columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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