Turn Your IVR Into a Digital Customer Service Engine

Nick Mitchell | February 18, 2015

I recently called a government department and, at first, its Interactive Voice Response (IVR) coped well with my complex details. But then it failed to direct me to the right agent. This was compounded by the fact that I had to repeat myself seven times to get my issue resolved. So initially I was impressed, but ultimately realized that the IVR was doing far less than it could given the capabilities available. It was frustrating for me, and certainly unproductive for the government department.

The challenge in improving this is to connect the IVR to the digital realm.

IVRs are certainly the workhorses of customer service. But in many cases they remain islands unto themselves. They don’t take advantage of the fact that today’s customers use smartphones, tablets and laptops to engage with companies and that, by doing so, customers are providing a wealth of data about what they’re trying to accomplish.

Businesses continue to invest in online self-service solutions hoping customers will largely take care of themselves. But when that falls short, many of them (about half according to a recent survey) switch to their phones—escalating issues they couldn’t resolve in self-service—and find themselves in an IVR queue. Thus the IVR becomes a last resort. That’s unfortunate for many companies, because their IVRs are not equipped to provide highly satisfying customer experiences. They were implemented years ago, before the age of the digital customer. Even when IVRs incorporate natural language, the experience can fall short of customers’ expectations because context from previous engagements is not leveraged, and often there’s no smooth way to complete a transaction or resolve an issue.

IVRs should become digital customer service engines

In his white paper, "Augmented IVR-Second Life for Interactive Voice Response," Dan Miller of Opus Research discusses how digital devices and using data for predictive experiences are reinventing the IVR. Miller says, "In spite of the growing use of text, chat, and websites for support, inbound call volumes continue to grow; and outbound activity, thanks to additional features and functions for IVRs (or their media service-based successors), are finding new life."

Miller calls this "the moment of truth for the born-again IVR." He says their new function "is to serve as the friendly gatekeeper and triage specialist, joined at the hip with resources that make rapid identification of the caller, automated resolution of his or her problems and intelligent routing of the call possible."

So what should an augmented IVR be able to do? To become more effective for customers and more productive for the company, it must be:

Smarter: The IVR should predict intent and best next action in real-time, based on the caller’s omnichannel journey context and relevant customer data. This is key to understanding how best to engage digital customers.

More engaging: IVRs should apply one natural language model across channels and combine this with prediction to engage customers in easy-to-understand, resolution-oriented conversations. IVRs should take advantage of large-scale data about voice and chat sessions, to evolve natural language models more quickly. This produces better performance and faster time-to-benefit, and makes natural language a building block of designing a customer’s omnichannel experience.

Completely connected: IVRs can be augmented by:

• Bridging web to IVR by understanding the customer’s originating context

• Combining voice with rich visual content

• Offering call-back

• Move to chat if needed

These capabilities help ensure unified, consistent and contextual customer engagement across channels and devices. Customer experiences should be seamless and intuitive, and take advantage of opportunities to use a customer’s smartphone or other device.

More productive: IVRs should incorporate understanding of a customer’s intent, to save them time, increase self-service rates and improve customer satisfaction scores. This can be accomplished by dynamically adapting IVR self-service in real-time, based on information the customer provides combined with historical data about them.

Utilizing information about customers’ activities across channels, devices and sessions, a company can turn its IVR into a digital engine for improving customer engagement. This can improve self-service rates up to 25 percent and significantly reduce customer effort.

You can learn more about transforming your IVR by downloading the Opus Research white paper