Contact Centre IVR definition and guide

Contact Centre IVR

The contact centre IVR (Integrated Voice Response) is a telephone system that lets callers interact with your company through either touch-tone (using numbers on your phone) or speech recognition that despite their often bad reputation, they can be a very useful tool for running an efficient contact centre.

What is an IVR in a Call Centre?

Anyone who has run a call centre has most likely had some experience with IVR technology.

It’s the Press one for this, two for that that you encounter at the start of the phone call.

Contact Centres use contact centre technology to help route (i.e. direct) calls to the agents that have the best skills to handle the enquiry.

So whilst it can seem somewhat annoying, making the right selection on the IVR can, and does, make for a better experience for customers.

But it also delivers benefits for the call centre.

There are often hundreds or thousands of staff that work in a contact centre and they all have varying levels of skill and experience.

Directing calls to the most appropriately skilled agent (known as Skills Based Routing), can save considerable talk time and rework resulting in a better experience for customers, and fewer costs for your business.


6 Types of Contact Centre IVRs

With technology continually advancin, there are now a number of alternatives when it comes to contact centre IVRs.

And with Cloud Contact Centre Technology now often the preferred technology solution, IVR software or an IVR application is typically also included.

We’ve provided an explanation of the different types of IVRs below, each offering different benefits for customers and businesses.

1. Push Button IVR

The traditional IVR is typically a feature of the Call Centre ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) which is the heart and soul of a contact centre technology stack.

It requires the customer to select a number between 1 and 9 by pushing a button on their phone (desktop or mobile phone).

Depending on the selection, they may then be offered additional menu(s) which are offered referred to as IVR layers.

The more options that lead to more options, the deeper the IVR layers.

Many contact centre IVRs are able to be configured directly by the business (a contact centre manager, internal IT etc) where some will require changes to be completed by your call centre technology provider.

2. Speech Recognition IVR

A Speech Analytics IVR uses speech analytics/speech recognition software to analyse the voice of the customer to identify keywords and then use that information to route the call.

Typically the customer is prompted to say a single word about what their call is about.

For example, “Please confirm the main reason you are calling us today”.

The customer may use the word ‘complaint’ so the Speech Analytics IVR will identify the word and then direct the call to the agents skilled in complaints.

3. Natural Language IVR

A Natural Language IVR enables the customer to interact with any system or device in a conversational manner without being constrained by responses.

Instead of the old touchtone IVRs with press one for this, two for that,  a Natural Language IVR simply asks the customer an open-ended question along the lines of “How can we help you today?”.

The customer simply says what they want like “I’d like to speak to someone in accounts, I’m interested in learning more about X product” etc.

Depending on how your IVR is set up, they can get automated answers straight away or have their call directed to the right area.

Pretty cool stuff.

So what are the benefits of a Natural Language IVR?

A Natural Language IVR offers a range of benefits for your business. Let’s take a closer look through the different lenses:

Customer Benefits:

  • It requires a lot less effort to navigate to the specialist they need to speak to or to receive the automated information they need.
  • According to a State of the IVR Report:
    • 82% of customers are dissatisfied with IVR. But companies with speech-enabled IVR had a + 33.9% overall higher score than companies that don’t use one.
    • 67% of the highest-scoring companies have adopted speech-enabled IVRs.

Call centre benefits:

  • There is a greater opportunity to reduce live calls if you can provide the answers to common questions through automation.
  • Agents will be less frustrated as it is more likely the customer will be routed to the correct queue in the first instance

Business benefits:

  • Cost reduction through the ability to eliminate calls through automation.
  • It increases efficiency (which in turn reduces costs) as fewer calls need to be transferred around your business.
  • Improves customer satisfaction over the traditional IVR.

What’s the difference between a Speech Analytics IVR and a Natural Language IVR?

It can be easy to get the two confused, especially if you are the customer.

But there is one big difference between the two.

Speech Recognition IVR is designed to listen for a single keyword like “complaint”.

A Natural Language IVR is designed to recognise phrases like “I’d like to make a complaint” which of course, makes it a much more natural way of speaking.

4. Visual IVR

If you need to contact an organisation typically the first place you look now is their website.

Best practice would suggest that ideally, you help customers self-serve perhaps with some FAQs or How-to guides that can resolve the issue without the need to contact you.

But assuming the customer can’t find the answer then the next resort is to contact you.

So they find your phone number and end up in your IVR having to press 1 for this, press 2 for that until they find the right options.

With Visual IVR technology though, it’s an entirely different experience.

Visual IVR enables them to navigate to the right area of support on the website.

It’s essentially having the IVR online!

They can click your support number and then be presented with the same options as your phone channel IVR enabling them to navigate to the area they need before making the call.

Once they have identified the right area for support, when they click call they will be immediately placed into the right queue ready for the next available call centre agent.

But wait, there’s more!

Because your customer is online, you can also capture additional information from the customer and pass that through to a call centre agent and this provides a host of benefits.

Benefits of a Visual IVR

1. Reduced Call Times

As customers can navigate to the support area they need before the call, you will cut down substantially on the call times for your customers.

And as you can collate information from the customer prior to the call (e.g. a product serial number) your agents will spend less time on the call asking for information.

This, in turn, can have a reduction in costs for you.

2. Improved Self-service

As you are able to collate more information from the customer as they navigate through your Visual IVR, this can provide you with better information to help with self-service.

For example, if a customer had selected a fault with their product you can then ask for the model number and serial number.

The customer enters the details on the phone.

With this extra information, you could potentially identify an issue that relates to that specific model number or serial number and push them to the solution (e.g. hit the reset button).

Or if no solution is available this extra information can be pushed through to the contact centre to making logging a claim quicker.

3. Improved Customer Experience

Customers are already on your website so a Visual IVR makes the need to contact your business a lot easier:

  • Rather than having to push buttons on your regular IVR, they can quickly select the area they need to talk to whilst on your site.
  • They won’t have to repeat information twice as information can be passed through to the call centre agent.
  • It’s a lot quicker for your customer.

4. Reduced Costs

Whether it’s through less talk time, more self-service or even the fact that your customer retention will be higher (because it’s easier to do business with you – Customer Effort Score) there are certainly some very strong ROI when you implement this technology.

ACXPA Members can use our ROI calculator to run the numbers on just how beneficial this can be for your business.

5. Self-Service IVR

The purpose of a Self-Service IVR is to enable the customer to 0btain the information they need, or complete a transaction, without talking to an actual agent.

This naturally offers a range of benefits for the business including reduced costs, whilst it can also offer the ability to offer a service 24/7 as there is no need to speak to an actual agent.

A Self-Service IVR can be useful if the information you are providing is quite static (i.e. it doesn’t change much). It could be product information, how to perform basic functions/troubleshooting steps, pricing, availability etc.

Example of using a Self-Service IVR

A simple example of a self-service IVR could be an electricity provider. If there is an outage, typically there is a large influx of calls with people wanting to report the outage and find out a timeframe of when their power would be restored.

Placing a Self-Service IVR at the head of the queue might work like this:

If you are calling about the outage in <insert area> press one. To hear our regular menu, press 2.

When customers press one:

Thanks for calling about the power outage in <location>. Our teams are aware of the outage and we have crews working on actively restoring power as soon as possible. The current estimate for the restoration of power is 8:00pm AEST (Melbourne).

The majority of the customers will receive the information they need without any need to talk to anyone.

Payment Automation

A Self-Service IVR can also be used to take payments – from paying a bill, upgrading a service etc all without the need to speak to an agent.

6. Conversational IVR

A Conversational IVR is similar to a self-service IVR with the outcome of reducing the need to speak to a live agent.

The main difference is that a Conversational IVR uses speech recognition technology to identify what the customer is calling about, and importantly, is able to under context in order to best help the customers.

This enables a more natural interaction for the customer where they can ask questions using natural language e.g. “I’m calling to find out how much it costs to upgrade” and the conventional IVR can then respond using complete (recorded) sentences.

In the event Conversational IVR doesn’t understand the question, it can simply direct the call to a live agent.

Leading Conversational IVRs are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) so they learn over time. So the more traffic that goes through the system, the ‘smarter’ it becomes. When a similar question or query is posed in the future, it can handle it without human intervention.

There are some big numbers being touted as benefits including:

  • Requests can be resolved 66% faster by AI as opposed to a live human.
  • AI can reduce the cost per call by 1/8 times as compared to traditional IVR

Whilst that may be true (I’m not so sure), there is the question of the customer experience. Done right, it could be a winner. BUt done poorly, it has customer experience disaster written all over it.

A Speech Analytics IVR uses speech analytics/speech recognition software to analyse the voice of the customer to identify keywords and then use that information to route the call.

Typically the customer is prompted to say a single word about what their call is about.

For example, “Please confirm the main reason you are calling us today”.

The customer may use the word ‘complaint’ so the Speech Analytics IVR will identify the word and then direct the call to the agents skilled in complaints.

Should you be using a contact centre IVR in your business?

It’s difficult to give a black-and-white answer as ultimately it depends on a range of different factors and the type of customer experience you want to provide.

But consider this:

  • If the only reason you have an IVR is to collect stats, then I would suggest you don’t use one.
  • If regardless of the options selected by the customer they end up with the same call centre agent, then again, no.
  • If you have staff with different skills and experience – absolutely.
  • If there is information you can provide the customer without connecting them to an agent, yes.

Is there a recommended level of IVR menus/layers?

We’ve all probably had the experience where you seem to be eternally trapped in a call centre IVR hell. After selecting your initial option, you are then presented with another 6 options. Make another selection and then guess what? More options for you!

And it goes on and on.

If the purpose of your IVR is to completely frustrate your customers to the point they hang up, the more levels the better!

But if you are trying to effectively route your calls and keep your customers onside, all research has shown the few options the better.

As a general rule, we would never recommend menus longer than two layers deep.

Who’s voice should be used on the IVR?

Many contact centres use internal talent to record the IVR prompts.

It might be the contact centre manager, team leader or an agent from the floor.

Whilst there is no hard and fast rule, the IVR is often the first experience a customer will have with your brand so having a professional voice, with a background soundtrack, is the recommended approach.

There are a number of professional companies who specialise in IVR recordings and on-hold messaging for contact centres so we recommend you reach out and speak to them directly.

Where can you find suppliers of Contact Centre IVRs?

It’s a little tricky to answer directly as it depends on the type of IVR you are looking for.

The ACXPA Supplier Directory contains a couple of different categories so we’ve included some links below and we’ve also included a link to our free Contact Centre Technology guide where you can learn more about the different types of technology used and if you need suppliers, use our free call centre technology wizard and we’ll recommend a few suppliers that can meet your specific requirements.

Search Contact Centre Technology Suppliers >
Free Contact Centre Technology Guide >
Customer Management Technology Suppliers >
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Upcoming ACXPA Contact Centre Roundtable July 2024 - John Stavrakis

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Nadine Power, ACXPA National Advisory Board Member

IVR Best Practice

Over 90% of contact centres are using an IVR (Press 1 for this, press 2 for that), and we've encountered many contact centres with over four layers of options for customers to select from. In this session, Nadine will be sharing some best practice tips on IVR design for 2024.

Presented by Nadine Power, Client Success Manager, VERSA Connects (and ACXPA National Advisory Board Member)

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