Providing efficient, cost-effective customer support is an ongoing challenge for most companies, which is why many large and some small businesses have made the switch from live operators to something called an interactive voice response (IVR) system.
The purpose of IVRs is mostly to make the initial process of answering and routing a call more efficient. Instead of talking to a live person, the caller is greeted by a pre-recorded voice coupled with technology that is capable of understanding words the caller speaks or selections he/she makes using the phone keypad.
Often, though, a customer will be able to get his or her question answered without ever talking to a live rep, simply by selecting different menu options and being routed to recordings that provide the needed information. If not, an option is usually presented to opt out of the pre-recorded menu and be routed to a live person.
When implemented correctly, an IVR can help customers perform transactions or get answers over the phone faster than they would by speaking to a live rep. Many customers, for example, appreciate the ability to quickly check the balance on a bank account, book a flight reservation with an airline, or refill a medical prescription.
Most consumers are familiar with the well-established IVR that uses keypad selections to direct callers through a series of pre-recorded menus. Most advanced systems now include voice recognition, allowing callers to speak commands rather than punching in numbers. This type of advanced solution is most appropriate labeled “interactive voice response,” since it involves not only the voice of the pre-recorded message, but also what the caller says.
Early speech-recognition features for IVR systems weren’t very sophisticated, but they have been greatly improved in the past few years. These systems can now understand not just words like “yes” and “no” but names and strings of numbers as well with a high degree of accuracy.
Yet another technology, text-to-speech (TTS), is now being coupled with speech recognition to make IVR systems more flexible. Customized text — such as details of a bank account balance or specifics for an airline ticket — can be created, and then read to the customer by a computerized voice. This removes the limits placed by having to pre-record all information presented to the caller.
Today, many IVR systems are based on voice extensible markup language (VXML). This system has five main components: a phone network (PSTN or VoIP) through which calls are routed, a TCP/IP network for Internet/intranet connectivity, a VXML phone server which acts as an interpreter between the caller and the information they’re accessing, a Web/application server to house the IVR software applications, and a database where information for access by the IVR applications.
Some companies choose to buy all of these components and run the system in-house; others opt for subscribing to a “hosted” or “managed” IVR service that provides the necessary functionality without requiring equipment purchase and upkeep.
To learn more about technology used for customer service, please visit the IVR
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Mae Kowalke is senior editor for TMCnet, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. To read more of Mae's articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for TMCnet here.
Edited by Mae Kowalke