By today’s industry definition, visual IVR is an IVR application augmented with a visual interface. Smartphones and most carrier networks let us open a native mobile app or browse to a mobile web app (e.g. pushed to the phone via an SMS text message) during a call. This app visualizes the options that the caller is hearing through the IVR, and lets them take control through this touch interface. So rather than pushing keys on the numerical dial pad (DTMF input) or using speech recognition, the user can now navigate through the IVR options using touch. This can speed up navigation, reduce call duration, and enhance the customer experience.
The problem with the name.
The name visual IVR is an attempt to leverage the well-known interactive voice response technology and name, which isn’t a bad idea if you’re addressing the enterprise space. Your audience knows what it is and understands its benefits. But unfortunately, IVR has never been a friend of your customers given too many bad voice user interface designs and missing integration with the contact center. Re-using a name with negative connotation might not be the best way to generate excitement about the capabilities of mobile customer service.
IVR exemplifies a technology-first, not customer-first mentality.
The reason why keeping IVR technology in place is a good idea is because customers are still hard-wired to pick up a phone and dial a number when they want to get in touch with a business and talk to someone. As long as that’s the case, letting customers speed up navigation through a visual IVR mobile app might make sense. At the end of the day, it comes down to how many unique IDs a business has established and engraved into people’s minds. A toll-free phone number like 1-800-PROGRESSIVE is one of those IDs. A homepage URL is another, as are Twitter handle, Facebook (News - Alert) page, etc.
But I don’t need the IVR to tell me what I see. A visual IVR application can wow you the first time you experience it, but hopefully a customer is thinking beyond that initial encounter. And if the visual IVR experience resulted from an outbound call, then why make that call in the first place, why not send a disposable app via an SMS directly?
Visual IVR exemplifies a technology-first, not customer-first mentality. It is similar to mobile deposits that banks are so proud of these days here in the U.S. Rather than fixing the underlying problem of money transfers across financial institutions, they still have you write checks, photograph them, and then upload them in a mobile app.
So rather than putting the call into a queue, companies should leverage callback functionality, which detaches the intent to connect a customer with an agent via phone from the physical call connection required. By combining callback with mobile apps you get the best of both worlds: letting customers quickly pre-qualify or define who they are on mobile (or the web, for that matter), understanding the subject of the agent conversation, then requesting a callback from an agent that will have all the necessary context to satisfactorily serve the customer.
WebRTC makes for an even better solution.
Even better: Make that callback through the mobile app, using technologies like WebRTC. This embedded live help feature will ensure:
- full context by making the live conversation part of the mobile app so that customers can keep looking at their data;
- no cost and delays are incurred with unnecessary IVR calls;
- there is no waiting on hold until an agent is available; and
- reduced telephony costs once the agent is connected through the app by using VoIP vs. the PSTN.
Visual IVR taken more broadly actually includes this use case: the addition of a rich visual interaction channel to an otherwise purely acoustic conversation once connected to an agent. The ability to co-browse, let the agent see what you are seeing, let them guide you in the mobile app or on the website, annotate on your screen, push documents to you, etc.
When we’re dealing with mobile apps, we don’t need special-purpose frameworks for visual IVR. We can simply design a mobile app that works similarly to how an IVR does by prequalifying a caller right before a handover to an agent. That handover, however, shouldn’t happen on a phone call. That’s how we have been doing it for the last 100 or more years.
Tobias Goebel is director of emerging technologies at Aspect (News - Alert) (www.aspect.com).
Edited by Dominick Sorrentino