Interactive voice response
Interactive voice response (IVR) units interact with queued calls and elicit information that will either help in processing the call, or serve to remove the call from the processing queue. With such a feature, users might be prompted to dial an extension, if they know the extension of the agent with whom they wish to speak. We are all familiar with calling an 800 number and then hearing the recorded questions asking us to enter digits to direct our call. A few examples are listed on the below.
- “Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish,...”
- “Press 1 for sales, 2 for service,...”
As another example, consider call centers maintained by large automobile dealers. A user who dials the service number is prompted to enter the extension of the service manager to whom they have been assigned previously. This act will take them out of the general service queue and route them directly to a particular split. If the requested service manager is busy, calls overflow to some sort of message desk for call-back requests.
Users can be prompted to access announcements or applications that can remove them from the agent queue. For example, if a user needs instructions on how to return an item for credit, he/she can be prompted to enter a selection that accesses this general set of instructions. The user is removed from the queue, while the required service is provided with little queuing delay.
Call center managers enter simple scripts to construct the routing tree and, of course, record the messages. Designers of call centers must be careful not to subject users to two maddening scenarios. The first is the case where the user is subjected to six or eight menu items. The problem here is that users may have forgotten the earliest choices by the time the entire recording is completed. The trick to good design here is to keep menu choices short at each step and, if possible, limit the number of different menu levels.
The second problem is the frustrating inability to get access to a live human. We have all encountered this problem and it can only be solved by ensuring that at each menu level customers have the option to request connection to an agent.
Why IVR is Effective
IVR units are incredibly effective in the call center in several dimensions. First, they can offload from 20–60 percent of the traffic from the agents. Callers who are looking for account balances or cellular usage this month or any of a myriad of other pieces of information can be connected to equipment that will ask for the account number and then supply the needed information without human intervention. This alone can save much agent time.
In cases where a call is to be transferred to an agent along with a customer record and the data cannot be accessed with calling line identification (CLID), then the IVR can be used to obtain the account number or order number that is used to access the database. Then both the call and the data record are forwarded to the agent simultaneously.
Clearly, an automated IVR is on 24 hour duty to allow customer access to routine information such as account balances. Further, IVR interaction is now widely accepted by callers and some units allow a caller to listen to information on products and when they hear something about a product they want they just say “agent” and are connected to an agent.
If callers who access agents previously supplied information in response to the IVR questions then that information can be forwarded to the agent along with the call. In this way, some information about the customer's interests or needs is available that can speed up call handling.
IVR units, when properly employed, can give a customer a greater sense of control in accessing information or getting to an agent who can respond to their needs. This leads to greater customer satisfaction, which, in turn, can lead to more calls.
IVR Unit Differentiators
Not all IVR units are alike, and care must be exercised when selecting a unit. For example, one must ensure that the interface to the IVR is compatible with the telephone system or private branch exchange (PBX) in use. Also important is line capacity or the number of simultaneous callers that can be handled, as well as the ability to add lines easily.
Recording quality is an important issue as not all units use digital recording. Clearly, a unit offering high quality digital recording is preferable.
A good quality application generator is desirable in an IVR. A graphical user interface that allows easy drag and drop programming of the IVR can greatly ease the administrative burden.
A good IVR unit will offer extensive data collection and reports capability so management can effectively assess how customers are using the unit and how successful they are. Analysis or reports can reveal excessive abandonments and often suggest solutions to caller problems.
Many IVR units also have add-on units that support related functions. This can be very effective. For example, speech recognition units allow callers to supply information without having to see or access a keypad. This is particularly helpful for people calling from wireless phones. Other add-ons include fax-on-demand that allows a customer to request that information be faxed to fill a need and have that happen without agent intervention. Text to speech is also helpful for messaging applications.