By Edwin Margulies
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems have been serving-up automated self-service since the late seventies and the subject of running pop culture jokes on shows like Seinfeld and The Simpsons ever since. Now the “Systems We Love to Hate” have a new lease on life.
Pay the Devil His Due
IVR Systems do a lot of heavy lifting. From multiple data dips to grab customer account info or order status, to screen pops for agents to speech recognition input from callers. All that infrastructure and professional services to build-out a good IVR app comes at a heavy cost.
And to what end? Well, for the most part to automate phone calls that would otherwise (unnecessarily) take operator assistance when no assistance is really needed. Such is the case for bank balances, order status or even a PIN code change.
Other value-added capabilities of IVR systems include call steering, multi-site routing and automated attendant. These systems save enterprises literally millions of dollars a year. Ostensibly the justification is to re-order the use of agents for more complex tasks that really require human intervention.
Enter Web 2.0 Customer Service
But wait. For a few decades, customers have been able to self-serve on web sites and now with SmartPhone applications. Doesn’t that make IVR go away? Not really. Despite rumors of its death, the commonplace phone call still dominates as a channel for customer service. And where there are phone calls, there will always be a way to automate them, hence the existence of IVR.
So Now What?
There is a way to leverage all of that heavy duty infrastructure and investment we have made in all these IVR systems. And that is to use them for what they were made for and even more so. The choices customers have now in terms of channel are pretty diverse. Take SMS (and automated SMS response), email, chat, and self-serve SmartPhone apps.
Wouldn’t it be cool if all of the time and money spent on IVR infrastructure could be extended so as to provide core services to other channels and modalities? The good news is this is not only possible but now practical with overlay applications.
Overlay Apps for IVR
The native modality of IVR is voice. But that does not mean all of that infrastructure can only service voice. This is where overlay applications come in. As the phrase implies, overlay apps run on top of, but do not replace, existing infrastructure.
For example, a great overlay app for IVR is Web Callback. Here, you can design a Java, PHP or other application on your web site to offer a callback option in addition to chat. You can create a form that allows customers to pick product and service choices from a drop-down list, pick a time for a callback and even a preferred number to call. All of that data can be sent to a hosted switch and media server that uses those data to call in to a target IVR system.
Imagine further that service doing all the legwork for the caller so the caller does not have to wait on hold or enter any navigation data into the IVR. That’s a perfect example of how the life of your IVR can be “extended” with an overlay app.
Here’s another example. Imagine a SmartPhone application for customer service (think retail banking application). Imagine further that you have trouble in an account transfer and a “panic button” appears offering you the ability to be called by a personal banker. All of your credentials get passed to a hosted system that submits routing data into the target IVR so you get to the right person. Another IVR extension with an overlay app.
The list goes on to include voice augmentations to in-application chats on mobile devices, to “screen scraping” data from an IVR and delivering it via text message.
The point is there are plenty of ways you can extend the life of your IVR system by using overlay applications. So before you retire your IVR, think of ways all of the routing, screen-popping and self-service capabilities you already have can be leveraged with modern overlay applications.
Another benefit of the use of overlay applications on top of IVR is to put a “pretty face” on IVR. Since IVR is telephony and purely verbal, the menus and task completion in general is much more difficult to navigate than visual ones. Overlay applications can get around this problem by presenting the same core capabilities but with a visual interface. This can drive down abandonment, decrease misdirected calls, and even improve containment. This makes overlay applications the friend of IVR and the practitioners of IVR. Overlay apps can be life extenders that provide alternate modalities on top of a fairly stable infrastructure.