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Bringing IVR to the Mobile Environment

As consumers go mobile, can interactive voice response platforms follow?
By Julie Knudson - Posted Nov 10, 2017
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There's little doubt that mobile devices are where communications are headed. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of adults in the United States now own smartphones. Ownership percentages are highest among the youngest demographic (those 18 to 29 years old), but other generations have also heavily embraced mobile devices. In fact, 42 percent of adults 65 and older own smartphones, and don’t make the mistake of assuming their digital communications are limited to phone calls. Pew’s studies have shown that people are using their mobile devices to do everything from shopping to finding a date, from looking for a job to reading books.

It’s natural, then, that consumers already accustomed to using interactive voice response (IVR) systems on their home or office phones would expect to be able to access similar technology through their mobile devices. But is that such a natural progression on the provider side of the equation? As businesses increasingly field calls from smartphone users, the strategies to bring the power of IVR into that mobile environment aren’t so obvious.

A phased approach is likely to be the most successful in making full use of IVR as the mobile device spectrum continues to evolve. “At its most basic, you can reuse VoiceXML with voice IVR,” explains Chris du Toit, chief marketing officer at Jacada, a customer service and contact center solutions company based in Atlanta. 

It’s a strategy that allows platforms already in VoiceXML to be converted in real time to digital interfaces, such as visual IVR. 

“It’s nice because it’s quick. You can stand up visual IVR in days by leveraging the existing technology,” du Toit says. 

However, the full power of smartphones would still go untapped without going further. “Then it’s about quickly moving into leveraging the capabilities of those devices beyond what the original IVR scripts were intended to do,” du Toit says.

As organizations evaluate where interactive voice technology and mobile devices intersect today, crafting a strategy to get the best results at those touch points could require an entirely new perspective, du Toit says. “It’s not necessarily integrating IVR with mobile specifically, but reassessing the way we view how IVR should work in the digital age,” he points out. 

Mobile devices are inherently digital, of course, while IVR is steeped in its analog roots. Rather than remaining solely in the voice realm, IVR must now reach out into the digital ecosystem to provide value in new ways. 

Visual IVR is one result of this crossover. “It’s the concept of taking those IVR phone prompts and displaying them on the screen of the smartphone,” du Toit explains. “You can see the options and touch your way through those options instead of listening to audio prompts.” 

The user experience with visual IVR, if it’s implemented well, should be faster and more pleasant than simply speaking to the system, he and others expect.

The advancement to visual IVR is about more than just the ubiquity of mobile devices. The people on the other end of those devices have also changed—in their needs, their expectations, and the time they have available for a phone conversation. Jack Gostl, president of ARGOS Computer Systems, an IVR systems provider in New York, says an improvement on the user identification within the IVR process—a component that forms the basis of many customer interactions—is definitely in order. Few consumers are eager to stand in a crowded airport and shout their social security numbers into their phones, for example. “Using account numbers and PINs won’t make it,” Gostl says of the traditional requirement to enter these highly sensitive digits to access accounts. Facial recognition and even fingerprint recognition are already available, and the implementation of those technologies is becoming more sophisticated every day. 

“On the iPhone 7, it’s so fast that unless I use a finger I haven’t scanned before, I don’t even realize it’s doing it,” Gostl says. 

The need for a more elegant way to manage user authentication must be a core part of IVR development within the mobile space, because few people walk around with their account numbers memorized, and they’re likely to be quickly frustrated if companies don’t recognize that. 

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