Today’s tech-savvy customers have higher expectations of the customer experience than ever. They want their interactions with your company to be fast, easy, and convenient. Interactive voice response (IVR) is the tool many companies use to meet this expectation, providing a streamlined process for customers to resolve problems, ask questions, and gather information.
IVR is any phone system designed to funnel calls through an automated process. If you’ve ever had to “press 1 for customer service,” you’ve interacted with an IVR system. IVR has advanced alongside the rest of communications technology, evolving from its early days as a call routing system to being used to distribute information, resolve issues, place phone orders, or pay a bill on the phone.
There are several reasons why companies value IVR to supplement the work of their contact centers, customer service representatives, and billing specialists.
With IVR, the customer can access information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They are likely to spend less time on the phone with an automated system than they would with a live agent.
IVR can identify a caller from their phone number. Calls can then be prioritized according to the value of the customer, and the system can access important information about the customer’s previous interactions with the company. For instance, if the customer received delivery of an appliance the day before, the system can more quickly route the call to remedy a problem.
Cloud IVR solutions eliminate the cost of hardware or upgrades, capturing the entire cost of the communication system in a monthly subscription. Companies also find that the time required of their IT team decreases because all troubleshooting and maintenance is handled by the provider.
Cloud IVR has the capability to allow your company to integrate the technology with other cloud solutions. This allows your voice applications to access real-time data and can further equip the IVR to expand its options, such as allowing customers to pay their invoices during a telephone call.
When it’s time for a customer to pay a bill or resolve another issue involving personal information, IVR is more secure than other options. An IVR solution encrypts the data received before it is entered into a system for processing, and a live agent never receives any personal information from the customer.
One of the key benefits of IVR is the tracking of the questions, issues, and requests for information that the system logs. It can measure call resolution time, how many transfers were necessary, and whether the customer had to call back to resolve their issue.
While there are many universal ways in which businesses can gain an advantage through IVR, there are a few aspects that can be particularly beneficial to businesses of different sizes. Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have unique needs, and, in turn, take specific benefits from IVR. These include:
A More Professional Image. IVR can help mask the size of a smaller business. Even if the calls are all routed to one or two people, the system gives the callers a much bigger impression of your company.
Customer Service. Customers are also able to connect with your company, no matter the time of day or if it’s the weekend. If you don’t have the staff to man the phones outside of regular business hours, your customers can still be served.
The other side of the equation is large businesses, which tend to have high call volumes that need to be handled accordingly. IVR helps large companies in the following ways.
Handling High Call Volume with Ease. IVR gives you the ability to immediately accommodate periods of high call volume. Cloud IVR is exceptionally scalable, with the capability to handle “bursting” when call volume unexpectedly jumps beyond the normal level. With IVR, customers will never know that you’re experiencing a rush on calls.
Visual IVR. When using IVR, customers reach the right agent more quickly and are able to resolve an issue within a single call. When a company utilizes visual IVR, the experience becomes even more convenient for the customer. They are able to navigate service options using a touchscreen on a mobile device for a user-friendly experience.
The advantages of IVR bring many possibilities. It frees your contact center agents from having to waste time with the simplest questions from customers. It allows you to put talented, skilled agents to work solving complex problems instead of telling people what your store hours are. But IVR still has room for improvement, and that’s where IVR monitoring comes in.
IVR monitoring is a tool that monitors an IVR system. How it does that can vary from system to system, but many systems will generate alerts when the IVR goes down, allowing those who maintain the systems to be notified and engage in repairs.
Monitoring can be simple — a simulated call is delivered to ensure the system is active and answering calls — or it can be more complex, offering data gathering that reflects on an IVR’s performance according to a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that tell just how well an IVR is working. It can also be done at set intervals in order to test the system over a longer period of time and ensure the system is working at peak performance.
Putting IVR monitoring to use allows businesses to take advantage of a wide range of benefits.
Maintaining Customer Service
If the IVR isn’t working, customer calls go unanswered. This sets up a stumbling block to establishing an omnichannel environment that provides service where and when the customer wants, which is increasingly desired by those customers.
Preventing Customers from Jumping Ship
When a customer can’t get a question answered from one company, the usual response is to proceed to that company’s competitors and get answers there. Suddenly this means potential business loss, which means profit loss. IVR monitoring helps prevent this.
Improving Current Operations
Your IVR system may be running, but that doesn’t mean it’s running as well as it could be. Monitoring your system can improve operations and prevent revenue loss.
Most of us don’t think of an IVR as being subject to excessive stress, but it’s actually a possibility. There is an ebb and flow to customer contact. Sometimes the system will be without a call to answer, and other times it will be utterly slammed. Proper stress testing will help you determine how your IVR handles calls during peak times.
What happens when the IVR is overly stressed and routing calls elsewhere? If it’s routing calls back to your agents, you could be paying agents to solve the simplest problems. You want those trained professionals to be solving serious problems. Proper monitoring can ensure your resources are allocated in a cost-effective way.
IVR load testing is pretty much what the term suggests. It’s a means to test an IVR system and its accompanying infrastructure by sending a large volume of traffic through it to see how much of that traffic the system can handle. IVR load testing is designed to measure the overall environment during various levels of usage. It’s not specifically out to break the system, but it can tell when the system approaches breakdown by monitoring the system while it’s testing, checking for things like CPU use, memory consumption, and similar system measurements to ensure a better outcome. Understanding this metric can help businesses optimize their IVR systems.
What types of systems should employ IVR testing?
You need (and are able to use) IVR load testing if:
No one knows where the failover point is. The point of IVR testing is to find the failover point, so if no one knows what it is already, then testing can serve its purpose.
The system can handle a “large” amount of traffic. If your system is already failing after 10 simultaneous calls, then IVR testing won’t be helpful. You already know where the failover point is, but you also know it’s very low. So even if you didn’t know if the failure point came precisely at call nine or call 11, you would find that IVR testing would overwhelm the system before it got even close to its full range.
The system has good-quality documentation. Many IVR systems were added after the fact, which means that the documentation of how the system is built is less than sound. Without solid documentation, it becomes very difficult to write the necessary test scripts or set up the IVR map that’s a large part of IVR testing.
IVR monitoring and testing help businesses of all sizes serve their customers more effectively around the clock. And across all industries, IVR monitoring enriches companies’ understanding of the end user. You’ll have reliable data about their behaviors and preferences with opportunities to gain more information through surveys and polls. The automated nature of the system frees up your employees to solve more complex tasks and ensures a better employee retention rate by eliminating some of the routine calls that can make a position boring and mundane.
From healthcare to retail sales and public services, IVR both gathers and distributes information, enriching the end-user experience and equipping the organization’s leaders with the insight they need to further improve policies and practices.
IVR can help you keep your costs down while improving all aspects of the customer experience. However, there are a few specific actions your organization can take to maximize the effectiveness of IVR, especially from a customer service perspective:
Conduct a Survey
Check in with your customers after you begin using IVR to handle their calls. Find out what their perception was of its efficiency, effectiveness, and whether they’ll use this method to contact your company again. Be proactive about communicating with customers about the survey results. If you receive some negative feedback, address the concerns and let customers know you will be using the results to improve their experience with your contact center.
Create a Clear Menu
Make sure customers are offered their options in clear language that’s presented consistently. For instance, determine whether you’ll use a phrase that includes a verb, such as “To make a payment, press one. To speak to someone in sales, press two,” versus using a simple badge-style designation, such as “For Billing, press one. For sales, press two.”
Determine Paths for Calls
Test your system extensively to see where customers will end up, and how many buttons it requires to get there. Make sure someone wanting to make a payment through your IVR isn’t working through four or five different menus to arrive at accounts receivable.
Present the Most Commonly Chosen Option First
If 75% of your calls are for placing orders, then make sure “to place an order” is assigned to “press one.” This seems simple, but because it will impact your metrics for call-resolution time, you’ll want to ensure callers quickly arrive at their destination.
Have Trained Professionals Ready
Your IVR should always improve the customer experience by giving callers a parachute. As you get further into the interaction, you might have a prompt for them to choose to speak to a representative. Don’t worry that this will eliminate the need for your IVR because if your IVR is effective, they’ll generally prefer to stick with the automated system.
IVR has made many strides in improving the customer experience in recent years, but it’s important to continually refine your IVR practices. Prioritize implementing technology that removes friction and reduces the effort required when a customer calls your contact center. It’s important that contact centers look for two opportunities.
Getting customers on their way to a solution by providing necessary information and tools.
Getting out of the way of customers who can quickly and conveniently self-serve.
To continually work toward those two objectives, there are great things ahead for IVR technology.
Machine learning (ML) will continue to improve in recognizing patterns, gaining more data, and crawling that data to find customer records.
Chatbots will become more intuitive, recognizing more speech and predicting more accurately when a customer needs a specific solution versus another.
Automation will make it easier for chatbots to know when a caller needs to be transferred to a live agent.
The callback tool gives customers the have the option to receive a call back from the system when an agent is available, rather than waiting on hold. This feature cuts down on the number of calls that are abandoned, and it’s no surprise that it boosts customer satisfaction.
Speech analytics will continue to give agents greater insight into how to engage the customer when answering a service call and achieve the level of satisfaction the enterprise hopes to deliver to a customer.
As far as preparing for new IVR technology, it’s important to determine whether your provider is looking ahead to more advances.
Ask your provider what innovations they have in mind for the future. How are they using chatbots and ML to help contact centers enhance the customer experience?
Find out what their update frequency is and how they’ll support your contact center with training when new features are available.
IVR benefits will vary between organizations and how they apply the available features, but an optimized IVR system has advantages for any business that desires improved customer service.
TelcoAlert’s truly flexible, accessible IVR-monitoring and load-testing solutions will help you rest easy knowing your phone system is operational. Contact us today to learn more.Let's Talk