Ever dial a 1-800 number and instead of having a real person pick up on the other end, you get one of those pre-recorded menus? “For customer service, press 1. For technical support, press 2. For free pizza, press 3…” Well, in the call center industry, that pre-recorded voice menu is called an IVR, which stands for Interactive Voice Response.
Basically, an IVR is a routing system that allows a caller to direct his or her call to the appropriate destination by choosing from a list of different options.
There are several different types of IVRs. Most allow the caller to interact with the system by pressing a number on the phone’s keypad that corresponds with the desired menu option. Others employ voice recognition technology that requests the caller to actually say something in order to select an option. I.e. “To take part in our free pizza giveaway event, say ‘free pizza.’”
Some voice recognition IVR systems are incredibly sophisticated, and simply ask the caller a very general, open-ended question like “Why are you calling us today?” and cross-referencing the response against an existing database of phrases to appropriately direct the call. So, if the person responds, “I’m calling for free pizza” then the call gets sent to the agents handling the pizza giveaway.
There are many advantages to having an IVR. Many companies feel that not every phone call needs the attention of a trained employee, and use an IVR system to disseminate basic information like hours of operation, location, and the company’s phone directory. This allows them to reduce their overall call center staff, and lets their agents focus on other things like specific customer service requests or technical support.
IVR systems can be available 24 hours a day to help customers with simple tasks, and in some cases can allow a caller to perform various self-service options for his or her account. With some services, you can dial a toll free number and completely cancel your account by simply pressing a few buttons on your phone, all without talking to a live agent.
There are dangers for companies that rely too heavily on IVRs, however. A business that allows automated account cancellation, for example, misses out on the opportunity for a live agent to resolve the customer’s problem that is causing him or her to end the service. Because there is no chance to “make a save,” customer retention levels will probably be lower than they would have been without the automated account cancellation option.
There are also problems that can arise if an IVR system is too complicated. Callers can feel overwhelmed if menus are too long, making it harder to remember all the options — a good rule of thumb is that no menu should have more than four options. Sometimes, automated voices may be difficult to understand, or may present too much information, extending the length of the call and making callers feel frustrated. Also, some people simply do not like talking to machines. People in general are social creatures, and most people out there prefer to have a warm, breathing body on the other end of the line.
So, a company needs to be careful when implementing an IVR system. Used properly, an IVR can be a wonderful tool to quickly and efficiently direct calls throughout the call center. An improperly designed IVR, however, can result in frustration and unhappiness for callers.
Even if you offer free pizza.