Interactive voice response

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Interactive voice response (IVR) is a dialog system technology that allows a computer to detect voice and keypad inputs. IVR technology is used extensively in telecommunications, but is also being introduced into automobile systems for hands-free operation. Current deployment in automobiles revolves around satellite navigation, audio and mobile phone systems. IVR systems can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR systems can be used to control almost any function where the interface can be broken down into a series of simple menu choices. In telecommunications applications, such as customer support lines, IVR systems generally scale well to handle large call volumes.

It has become common in industries that have recently entered the telecom industry to refer to an Automated Attendant as an IVR. The terms Automated Attendant and IVR are distinct and mean different things to traditional telecom professionals, whereas emerging telephony and VoIP professionals often use the term IVR as a catch-all to signify any kind of telephony menu, even a basic automated attendant.


[edit] Typical uses

IVR systems are typically used to service high call volumes, reduce cost and improve the customer experience. Examples of typical IVR applications are: telephone banking, televoting, and credit card transactions. Large companies use IVR services to extend the business hours of operation.

Call centers use IVR systems to identify and segment callers. The ability to identify customers allows the ability to tailor services according to the customer profile. It also allows the option of choosing automated services. Information can be fed to the caller allowing choices such as: wait in the queue, choose an automated service, or request a callback (at a suitable time and telephone number). The use of computer telephony integration (CTI) will allow the IVR system to look up the caller line identification (CLI) on a network database and identify the caller. This is currently accurate for about 80% of inbound calls. In the cases where CLI is withheld or unavailable, the caller can be asked to identify themselves by other methods such as a PIN or password. The use of DNIS will ensure that the correct application and language is executed by the IVR system.

[edit] Voice-activated dialers

(VAD) Voice-activated IVR systems are now used to replace the switchboard or PABX (Private Automatic Branch eXchange) operators which are used in many hospitals and large businesses to reduce the caller waiting time. An additional function is the ability to allow external callers to page hospital staff and transfer the inbound call to the paged person.

[edit] Entertainment and information

The largest installed IVR platforms are used for applications such as voting in TV game shows such as Pop Idol and Big Brother which can generate enormous call spikes.

The following are some of the more common uses of an IVR:

  • weather forecasts
  • crossword answers
  • telephone banking
  • order placement (particularly for mobile content, such as ringtones and logos)
  • caller identification and routing
  • balance inquiry
  • airline ticket booking
  • adult entertainment

[edit] Anonymous access

IVR systems also allow callers to obtain data relatively anonymously. Hospitals and Clinics have used IVR systems to allow callers to receive anonymous access to test results. This is information that could easily be handled by a person but the IVR system is used to preserve privacy and avoid potential embarrassment of sensitive information or test results.

[edit] Clinical trials

IVR systems are used by large pharmaceutical companies to conduct global clinical trials and manage the large volumes of data generated. The caller will respond to questions in their preferred language and their responses will be logged into a database and possibly recorded at the same time to confirm authenticity. Applications include patient randomization and drug supply management.

[edit] Technologies used

DTMF signals (entered from the telephone keypad) and natural language speech recognition interpret the caller's response to voice prompts.

Other technologies include the ability to speak complex and dynamic information such as an e-mail, news report or weather information using Text-To-Speech (TTS). TTS is computer generated synthesized speech that is no longer the robotic voice generally associated with computers. Real voices create the speech in tiny fragments that are spliced together (concatenated) before being played to the caller.

An IVR can be utilized in several different ways:

  1. Equipment installed on the customer premise
  2. Equipment installed in the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network)
  3. Application service provider (ASP).
  4. Virtual Hosted IVR

A simple voicemail system is different from an IVR in that it is person to person whereas an IVR is person to computer. IVR voiceforms can be used to provide a more complex voicemail experience to the caller. For example, the IVR could ask if the caller wishes to hear, edit, forward or remove a message that was just recorded.

An automatic call distributor (ACD) is often the first point of contact when calling many larger businesses. An ACD uses digital storage devices to play greetings or announcements, but typically routes a caller without prompting for input. An IVR can play announcements and request an input from the caller. This information can be used to route the call to a particular skillset. (A skillset is a function applied to a group of call-center agents with a particular skill.)

Interactive voice response can be used to front-end a call center operation by identifying the needs of the caller. Information can be obtained from the caller such as account numbers. Answers to simple questions such as account balances or pre-recorded information can be provided without operator intervention. Account numbers from the IVR are often compared to caller ID data for security reasons and additional IVR responses are required if the caller ID data does not match the account record.

IVR call flows are created in a variety of ways. A traditional IVR depended upon proprietary programming or scripting languages, whereas modern IVR applications are structured similar to WWW pages, using VoiceXML, SALT or T-XML languages. The ability to use XML developed applications allows a Web server to act as an application server, freeing the developer to focus on the call flow. It was widely believed that developers would no longer require specialized programming skills, however this has been proven to be misguided as IVR applications need to understand the human reaction to the application dialogue. This is the difference between a good user experience and IVR hell.

Higher level IVR development tools are available in recent years to further simplify the application development process. A call flow diagram can be drawn with a GUI tool and the application code (VoiceXML or SALT) can be automatically generated. In addition, these tools normally provide extension mechanisms for software integration, such as HTTP interface to web site and Java interface for connecting to a database.

In telecommunications, an audio response unit (ARU) is a device that provides synthesized voice responses to touch-tone keypresses (DTMF) by processing calls based on (a) the call-originator input, (b) information received from a database, and (c) information in the incoming call, such as the time of day.

ARUs increase the number of information calls handled and to provide consistent quality in information retrieval.

[edit] VoIP

The increased usage of VoIP in voice networks is likely to affect how IVR will be used in voice networks, this is due to the introduction of protocols such as SIP. The introduction of SIP means that point to point communications is no longer restricted to voice calls but can now be extended to multimedia technologies such as video. This will bring a new meaning to automated services as IVR extends its reach to video calls. Many IVR manufacturers are currently working on IVVR (Interactive Voice and Video Response) systems, especially for the mobile phone networks. The use of video will give IVR systems the ability to use graphical and video information to assist the caller.

The introduction of video IVR may allow systems in the future the ability to read emotions and facial expressions. It may be used to identify the caller, using technology such such as Iris scan or other biometric means. Recordings of the caller may be stored to monitor certain transactions, and will be used to reduce identity fraud.

[edit] Criticism

IVR is often criticized as being unhelpful and difficult to use due to poor design and lack of appreciation of the caller's needs.[1] Some callers object to providing voice response to an automated system and prefer speaking with a human respondent. A properly designed IVR application should provide the caller's needs promptly and with a minimum of complexity.[neutrality disputed]

[edit] Outsourcing vs. contact center automation

Contact centers are very expensive to run, and can be seen as a drain on companies' operations.[citation needed] Methods of reducing costs include outsourcing and automation. Outsourcing to other countries can reduce operational expenditure by as much as 30%, however, differences in culture and language can prove problematic for customers, whose dissatisfaction can lead to customer complaint and loss of business.

Automation in a contact center can also reduce operational expenditure by around 30% though the introduction of technologies such as customer profiling, CTI, and IVR using speech recognition. The use of automation in the contact center promotes efficiency, allowing contact centers to be located in the country from which the call is originated. However, automation can also prove problematic when it fails, and can lead to long wait times for available agents.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "The Seven Deadly Sins of IVR". Call Centre Management Association. Retrieved on 2007-12-12. 

[edit] External links

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