Automating (and Visualizing) the Conversations

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  July 01, 2010

Originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions

Interactive voice response (IVR) – both DTMF and speech rec – enable contact centers to cut costs by diverting simpler calls away from expensive live agents and by shortening the time spent in person-to-person exchanges through capturing and screen-popping basic information to the staff. Yet too often many of these applications: the technology and the setup, including scripting have resulted in poor customer service, which risks alienating customers and their dollars.

With a greater realization that retaining customers are equal if not important a strategy as prospecting for new ones, suppliers and their organization clientele alike are looking at ways to better automate the conversations to keep the callers in the systems, and as customers. These include beefing up their IVR systems, examining and deploying outbound IVR and looking into automated video i.e. interactive voice and video response (IVVR).

Customer Interaction Solutions contacted several leading firms to get their insights on IVR and IVVR applications. The questions posed covered general trends, DTMF versus speech rec, outbound IVR and IVVR. Owing to the space available in our print magazine we have included only their responses to general trends. Instead we have posted the entirety of their replies at [insert URL]. Please peruse them for information and advice on how best to automate (and visualize) your customer interactions.

Dr. Ahmed Bouzid, Director of Product Management

--The old centralized large call center is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Instead, we are witnessing the emergence of distributed, small and informal contact centers.  The main driver of this trend is the move by the enterprise from building expensive on-premise installs to adopting hosted or managed contact center solutions.  Now that the enterprise is convinced that it is not a passing fad, the cloud is no longer considered a risky experimental proposition, but a viable business option. 

With this move, the deployment of IVR solutions is now finally in the hands of experts who know how deploy highly usable IVR applications, rather than IT engineers who aretasked with a project whose budget is consumed mainly with the low-level challenges of setting up the infrastructure to just get things to connect appropriately. Deploying in the cloud on an already existing and ready-to-use infrastructure shifts the budget equation in favor of spending the precious dollars on the design and testing of IVR applications, rather than on coding and telecom configuration.  This will lead to the deployment of increasingly usable IVR applications.Avaya

Michael Perry (News - Alert), Director of Contact Center Product Management

[Of the trends] we are continuing to see much more outbound IVR applications getting deployed, and companies are seeing the benefits of reaching out and proactively notifying customers of pending activities and events. These types of applications are saving companies potentially millions of dollars while driving up customer satisfaction at the same time. The ability to head off inbound customer calls for routine things like shipping confirmations and appointment reminders, while providing customers with something of value is of tremendous value and we're seeing more and more of these types of applications getting deployed every day.


Scot Harris, Director, Market Planning and Strategy

The struggling economy and reduced consumer spending are not only putting pressure on enterprises to retain precious customers, but to do so in as cost efficiently a method as possible.  Recent surveys have reported that 85 percent of consumers believe customer service is an important factor in continuing to do business with a company. Since the IVR is usually the “voice that answers the phone” when customers call, providing them with a personalized, information-rich automated interaction helps to keep customers satisfied cost effectively.

Shifting demographics – with “Generation X” and the “Millennials” gaining spending power – and easy access to information via the Web have created customer bases that have much higher customer service expectations. This increased expectation, coupled with rapidly growing mobile phone use is driving enterprises to enhance their customer service offerings to allow easy access to up-to-the-minute account information from anywhere at any time. Over 20 percent of all U.S. households have dropped landlines in favor of using cell phones exclusively for voice communication, according to recent survey results from the National Center for Health Statistics.


Steve Kaish (News - Alert), Vice President, Product Management and Marketing

There are three main trends I see:

1.         As business becomes increasingly fast-paced and competitive, call centers are making more modifications more often to their IVR to respond to those changes;

2.         As self-service and sophisticated routing applications become more pervasive, integration with multiple back-end systems is becoming increasingly common and important; and

3.         The need for business agility and lower operations costs has made seamless integration between the IVR and the rest of the contact center infrastructure i.e. ACD, CTI (News - Alert) services) more important. When the IVR flow and ACD routing rules are managed in a single interface, and the IVR collected info is automatically part of CTI info for screen pops, the cost of and complexity of initial implementation and day-to-day operations is dramatically reduced.


Dena Skrbina, Senior Director, Solutions Marketing, Enterprise Division

Nuance (News - Alert) sees three key IVR trends in contact centers. These include:

1.  Self-service solutions designed to generate customer loyalty

IVRs were created to save businesses money.  In the past, systems were too focused on the needs of the business with no consideration for the customer experience. A well-design, self-service solution empowers the customer and understands their needs.  The result: Increased adoption, improved task completion rates, higher satisfaction, and in even more savings for the business. Businesses today know more about their customers than ever before. Using that customer knowledge, they are executing self-service strategies with a re-inspired focus on increasing loyalty and self-service adoption.

2.         Relevant proactive notifications

When the information is relevant and considered valuable by the customer, proactive notifications cut costs, increase customer retention and loyalty, increase revenues and expand business. Being reactive is no longer enough in today’s highly competitive and cost conscious business environment. There is a powerful tie between proactive notifications and a company’s inbound customer care operation. Blending customer contact operations into one seamless experience can help further satisfaction as well as reduce costs.

3.         Cloud-based IVR (hosted, managed service)

Cloud-based solutions are rapidly becoming the preferred delivery model, primarily because they save enterprises money, free up resources and allow companies to benefit from the latest and greatest IVR technology using a shared, flexible delivery model.  In a cloud-based model, the entire IVR and speech infrastructure is built, maintained, monitored and operated by a hosting provider.


Dan York (News - Alert), Director of Conversations

Consumer expectations for speed, convenience and on-demand information have skyrocketed. While speech and touch-tone driven self-service phone portals are now commonplace, the major trend we see right now are companies adapting their communication and support strategies to take advantage of the widespread adoption of additional interaction channels such as SMS, IM, video, the mobile Web and even social networks like Twitter. This trend is being driven by customer request and preference. Convenience is what customers require and there are situations when making a phone call is not convenient, or a customer simply prefers to send a text message or perhaps start a Web chat session.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi