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Can Visual IVRs Shift Popular Opinion in Speech Tech’s Favor?

Adding a visual component can keep end users happy, but the type of solution a company chooses will depend on its size and needs
By Tye Pemberton - Posted Jun 14, 2016
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A recent report confirms what you already know: Customers are fed up with traditional interactive voice response (IVR) systems. The 2015 NICE State of IVR Report registers dismal numbers for how consumers are using IVRs in comparison to just two years ago. Last year, customers attempted to bypass the IVR altogether a whopping 53 percent of the time, while 29 percent of the time they abandoned the call in frustration.

However, even as other customer touch points, like Web self-service, are on the rise, IVR systems as well remain a frequent stop along the customer journey. According to the 2015 Forrester Research “Vendor Landscape for Interactive Voice Response Solutions” report, IVR usage is actually rising consistently alongside other channels compared to the previous year. Between 2014 and 2015, the percentage of adults who reported the use of voice self-service when surveyed increased 15 percent, a fine showing against the 10 percent average over several channels, and notably performing even better than self-service mobile phone apps, which increased by 13 percent from the previous year.

A staple of banking and finance, and widespread in almost every other industry, IVR systems have been a tool of call deflection since the 1970s. Primarily implemented as a way to screen, channel, and resolve calls, they reached a fever pitch in the 1990s with the widespread addition of computer telephony integration (CTI). Combined with the falling cost of hard disk storage, this technology, which allowed IVRs to collect and track information entered by callers, made IVRs one of the most attractive strategies for businesses looking to reduce the cost of their customer service channels, and they remain so to this day. The Forrester report notes that the most popular metric for IVR remains containment, and serving calls with automation is still substantially more cost-effective, with live agents costing an average of $10 per call to IVRs’ $0.20.

With conflicting data and business goals, customer service will need to focus on answering these questions: How will enterprises reconcile customer demand for more immediate responses and satisfaction with the desire for cost-effective solutions? And how can businesses maintain successful and well-regarded customer service without abandoning decades of paradigm-defining technology and infrastructure?

Visual IVR may be the solution.

Visual IVR: A Problematic Name

Succinctly, visual IVRs aim to augment the functionality of the script-driven menus in traditional IVRs with visual navigation. The sheer breadth of how that can be accomplished, and the channels in which it can take place, make this chimera category of contact center technology more of a tent under which a number of approaches with the same intent congregate, rather than a single, discrete solution. Many vendors offering these kinds of hybrid solutions are uncomfortable with the label. “It’s the greatest blessing and the greatest curse,” says Chris du Toit, chief marketing officer for Jacada, the omnichannel customer service vendor that coined the term visual IVR. “Visual IVR very aptly described what the service did, especially in 2012 and 2013. The challenge, of course, is that if you’re talking to a director of digital transformation or customer experience and you mention visual IVR, if they have not heard of it they’re going to hear the words ‘IVR’ and they’re going to push you down to the IVR guys. They fail to immediately grasp that this is a part of digital transformation and a full digital engagement platform.”

Solutions under the visual IVR tent can range from clickable menus that mirror the traditional IVR script; to flexible “portaling” from the phone IVR to mobile or Web help via text or URL; to the transmission of useful documents and forms during the IVR session. Some of these solutions are much less dependent on and engaged with the speech technology that traditional IVR systems have relied on. Consequently, enterprises looking to incorporate a visual IVR solution into their CRM strategy have to be clear on what functionality they’re hoping to achieve. Do they want a way to speed end users through the IVR menus and thus alleviate some of the pain of the much-maligned process? Do they want to retain the infrastructure of their current IVR and sync it with the new capabilities? Or do they want to build a solution from scratch? And encompassing all this is the question of whether a system can retain information across platforms as the end user traverses the various channels—and how best to pull that off.

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