The IVR has evolved over time. Once considered just a routing technology that worked in conjunction with the ACD to get calls to the right place and eliminate the need for humans to act as gatekeepers for all calls, it has slowly evolved to be an end-to-end solution for customer self-service.
The Evolutionary Timeline
The IVR was born in 1962 when the Bell System first introduced tone dialing. During the 1970s and 1980s, call centers rushed to implement commercial IVRs, which simply detected input from the customer and routed the call to a specific department. These solutions were simply auto-attendants that took the place of a human operator for call routing.
The second evolution of IVR occurred when intelligent call routing became the norm--taking incoming call information such as ANI (Automatic Number Identification) and DNIS (Dialed Number Identification Service) and collecting information input by the customer to route the call to a particular agent, not just any agent in a certain department. Many IVR solutions that come packaged with automatic call distributors today are still the same. They collect information with the goal of delivering the call to the right agent. While it works well for routing calls, it doesn’t solve the caller’s problem, and it doesn’t address the enterprise’s need to provide a great customer experience via automation at a sustainable level.
Today’s IVR is a self-service proposition. ANI and DNIS information as well as customer input are still used to gather information about the call, but more advanced technologies such as cross-channel data analytics, as well as past caller preferences and current caller behavior can be used to make a highly accurate determination of the customer’s intent and to achieve high levels of automation, returning information to customers without the need of a live agent. By bringing in data analytics and using that information to understand the caller and the caller’s history, the IVR can help customers find answers for themselves and provide the right amount of service for them without having to deliver them to an agent.
IVR Self-Service Is Critical for Some Industries’ Survival
It’s not news to anyone in the contact center industry that live customer support is an expensive proposition. Some industries require a high level of automation – upwards of 95 percent – simply to survive. In an industry with narrow profit margins like prepaid calling cards, automated customer support must be the norm, with live agent support the exception. These companies need customers to be able to help themselves in nearly all cases (or they wouldn’t be able to provide service at all) and advanced IVR technology is the cornerstone of their survival. It’s not a stretch to say that without high levels of automation for incoming calls (much of it provided by twenty-first century IVR technology) many companies would be unable to stay in business.
Avoiding “IVR Jail”
There will, of course, always be customers who are determined to find their way to a live agent, and no company should have as its goal using IVR technology to block customer access to a real human being at all costs. (Though many companies, as we have all experienced first-hand, continue to do so.) But the point is that with a properly designed IVR solution, most customers will neither want nor need to speak with a live agent as long as their goals are being met with self-service. This is where the real value happens: companies aren’t trapping customers in the IVRs so they can’t get out, but customers have no need to find their way out of the IVR simply because their problems have already been solved. Whether an IVR platform is a jail or a place of robust self-service opportunities will depend on the solution and its implementation and tuning.
“Effortless for the Customer, Sustainable for the Enterprise”
The goal of customer support today should be to make it effortless for the customer and sustainable for the enterprise. This is what a majority of customer-facing enterprises are seeking today (or should be). Learning, adapting IVR technology does just that: easy self-service that brings up the quality of customer support thanks to robust data analysis while at the same time bringing down costs. If we can self-service the majority of customers successfully, we’ve given them a great customer experience without the expense of live agent support.