An interactive voice response system, or IVR, is generally the first line of interaction a customer has with a business. We’ve come to know these systems as the robotic voices that help guide us to an agent, and generally they may not be very great at doing much else. Some systems may even struggle to assist customers with the simplest of inquires, or are just plain annoying to navigate.

But in the time when customer satisfaction relies so heavily on the experience and support they receive, a business could benefit greatly from modernizing their IVR system. In fact, a modern IVR can play an important role in supporting an omnichannel, or digitally connected, customer experience.

What is IVR

So what exactly is an IVR system, and how does one function? Well, IVR solutions are the system that power the bot like assistant used to collect customer responses and help facilitate two-way conversations. IVR systems are most commonly used as an administrative assistant to help guide customers and users to the help they need, or even sometimes helping users complete simple actions such as checking on their order status.

However, IVR systems can also be utilized for out-bound contact centers, joined with power dialers to create a powerful, and effective campaign or announcement solution. Although, the FCC has been trying to crack down on similar uses, like robocalls. IVR systems allow a business to create a menu, generally in the style of a flow chart, through which callers can access the assistance they need – and how complex you make this menu can lead to really busy agents, or on the other end really happy customers.

The Modern IVR

Now, if you want to play on semantics just about any IVR system you can employ today would technically be a modern IVR system. However, whether or not your IVR system delivers on the key aspects of what makes a truly “modern” system stand out from basic, antiquated solutions is the distinction to make. Some IVR systems in place are still really dumb.

A modern IVR system will generally include a number of key factors, including:

1. Integration
We love integrations, as do businesses – in fact we’re confident integrations will be a staple of UC trends in 2017. They allow us to bridge the gap between two otherwise independent solutions or pieces of software, which results in less downtime, improved efficiency, and more knowledgeable or resourceful agents. A modern IVR system would be one capable of integration with different solutions, the most common of which would of course be your favorite CRM software. Linking together your IVR system with your CRM database can provide assistance with direct access to all the necessary information about that caller, right away.

For example, on a very simple level: integrating CRM and IVR would allow your IVR system to recognize a phone number, pull up the relevant account information, address the caller by first name, and already have immediate access to past purchases the caller might be inquiring about.  In fact, this is, as I have repeated time and time again, exactly what Vonage CEO Alan Masarek was talking about – contextual based support, and bridging together multiple islands of technologies.

2. Personalization
Since all of your information is already integrated between your CRM and IVR system, this can allow for a much more personal touch to any support provided – starting from the second a caller dials in. Building off of our integration example, your IVR system would have access to CRM information to apply a personalized touch to every interaction.

Simply greeting the customer by name when the call in is the level of personalization that can drastically improve the customer’s experience. Or, taking the idea just one step further: if a valuable Tier 1 client calls for assistance, the IVR system could then pull in the CRM account information, and recognize the client as an important one.

Your IVR system could then transfer them directly to the highest level of service, or the most appropriate department. This could free up time f or otherwise lower level support agents, while at the same time helping to improve the customer experience.

3. Analytics
Analytics are incredibly powerful – the ability to measure every aspect of your system, and even track and test just about every aspect, are the main reasons channels can constantly innovate and address and flat points that may present themselves. Analytics and big data are huge, and can be applied in a number of different fields. We took a look at how you can utilize data in your Business VoIP call reports, but the same can be done for a business’ IVR system.

A modern IVR system would collect information and help point out exactly what is, and is not working in the system, or where weak points in the customer experience lie. For example if 90% of callers disconnect when they reach a specific section, this data can be used to help address the issue and reconfigure that section, or how your IVR system responds to certain requests. Analytics will help make it possible to identify trends and capitalize on information be predicting what future customers will need, and how they will use the system.

4. Routing Engine
All of the information gathered through analytics would not be very useful without an intricate rules engine to power the entire system. These “Routing Engines” are what guide callers through the IVR system, and can be configured in a number of ways to improve the experience. Customer retention routing can be utilized to prioritize calls and adjust the routing strategy and messages based on a “retention index” – a value applied to callers of how likely they will be to disconnect or cancel service.

Another example could be to simply route callers to the last agent they spoke with. It can be considered rare for a customer to receive the same agent twice – which would be incredibly beneficial to the experience, since that agent would already have the necessary context. A routing engine could be enabled to utilize CRM information to route callers to whichever agent they had the most success working with, or simply worked with last.

5. Terminal and Self Service Options
The most effective IVR systems are those that help callers solve their issue, or receive an answer to their inquiry, without the need for human agent interaction at all. In fact, this is also why Chat Bots will be the next thing for contact centers, helping to weed out the simple requests so agents can deal with more prioritize and complex cases. When a caller has interacted with an IVR system and completed a transaction without an agent, this would be considered a terminal service.

One of the most common examples for a terminal service for your IVR would be adding in a shipment tracking option. If through analytics your business has noted that a 65% of callers inquiry on shipping status, but this always goes to an agent – building in that function into your IVR will help improve the experience tenfold. Another way to expand your omnichannel experience could be to include an email, as most businesses do now, with the relevant shipping information right after a purchase is made.

6. Automated Speech Recognition
Older style IVR systems would simply tell a caller how to navigate, and which button to press for a department. However modern IVRs employ speech recognition for a conversational experience.  I’m sure many of us have ran into systems that just flat out do not understand what we are saying, despite repeating the same sentence clearly four or five times.

Automated Speech Recognition functions would allow a IVR system to work through conversational communication – instead of  just asking the caller to hit 4 for Sales, the system would ask the caller what their issue is, analyze the information and help direct a customer to the proper location.

Now, this sounds similar to a powerful routing engine, or personalization through CRM integration – but the system can even help improve where your CRM can’t help. The biggest time waste would have to be the context in which a client is calling, the need for a client to repeat their information or issue – well a modern IVR with automated speech recognition can simply ask your caller for their information, which would be displayed to the answer agent as a screen pop. This of course cuts down on time, and frustration – in fact IVR systems can be so frustrating at times, we put together a some tips on how to make your IVR system less annoying.

Visual IVR
If your business really wants to take your IVR system a step further, and truly integrate the solution into the digital world, then a visual IVR might be the answer. One of the most capable solutions we came across is the Visual IVR by Jacada.

The addition of a visual IVR to your business’ arsenal would compliment the existing system already in place. The true benefit of a visual IVR comes in reducing the tedious and time consuming process of users repeating their contextual information at the start of every phone call. Of course, some of our previously mentioned  factors can assist in this – but CRM integration might not always be possible, and sometimes users call in on different phone numbers.

With a visual IVR system, your business can embed the same, or a totally new, IVR chart for support directly in your mobile app or on the business website. Customers utilizing the self-help options online could then reach out to support through the Visual IVR, navigate through the system to find the department they need. However, instead of simplifying finding a phone number to call, the Visual IVR system would then ask the user to input all of the relevant account and inquiry information.

A caller could be connected to an agent online, or over the phone, and the agent would receive a screen pop of all the information the client listed, saving loads of  time and frustration on both ends.

A Modern IVR For the Modern Experience

If your business is looking to improve their overall customer experience, there are of course a number of ways to do so. Introducing an omnichannel, or digitally connected, experience could truly benefit both your client and business’ bottom line with happier clients, less agent downtime and an overall more powerful and resourceful experience.

Evolving your IVR to modern standards is almost a no brainer, with so many of these features already included in existing situations. However, no longer is it enough for a company to simply set their IVR and forget about it completely – a little bit of integration and data analytics can go a very long way.