End The IVR System Hate! Save the Day With Conversational AI

Virtually every customer support team uses an IVR system. But an alarming number of those systems are just *terrible!*

Talk about contact centers with any person on the street and they’ll tell you – IVR systems are the worst part of the whole process.

(Press 1 to achieve basically nothing. Press 2 to keep listening to tinny music. Press 3 to lose your mind…)

But the clock hasn’t run out for IVR. In fact, the opposite is true – this is IVR’s time to shine!

We’re going to talk about why. But first, let’s define some IVR technologies.

What is Natural Language Processing? (NLP)

NLP is artificial intelligence that can listen to you speak, and figure out what you’re saying. 

What is Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

NLU is the next step – it knows, based on what you say, what you want to happen next.

Speech recognition

This is a ‘catch-all’ term that covers any system which works with speech. In general use, speech recognition often means the simplest version of conversational tech, that only recognizes numbers and a handful of words.

Conversational IVR?

Conversational IVR  – AKA Conversational AI – is what results when you combine different pieces of tech.

The result is a smart, interactive system that understands speech and speaks back.

What with the terrible record IVR systems have?

Over and over, IVR systems are picked out as the worst part of customer experience. Are they just a bad idea?

I don’t think so. I suspect that few businesses know how to use them to good effect.

Here are two of the key problems you need to solve.

Your IVR system can’t access any data

When a customer calls you, they want you to know who they are, what they’ve purchased, why they called last time.

They want that… but does that ever happen?


Here’s the rub: by 2022, Gartner expects that 90% of businesses will feature data as a key asset.

I hope the link is clear! You have data that your IVR could use to massively improve CX. But you need to give the IVR access!

The data is worth money, just as sure as the phones and computers in your office are worth money. But to access that value, you need to integrate your systems.

Where is the data right now? It’s in various systems like your call center CRM. You need to develop an approach  – like API integration – to move that data to where it can be useful.

Otherwise, it’s like having an office full of phones and computers that nobody uses. A waste!

IVRs and agents aren’t joined up

Many customers interact with an IVR system on their way to an agent.

But does the agent have any idea what happened during the IVR part of the call? Almost certainly not.

The result is that customers often have to repeat information. This is not the route to fantastic CX!

This is another occasion where strong data integration is a must. Customers don’t think about channels, or transfers or data. All they’re interested in is their problem and how you’re going to help them.

Now let’s think about some of the extra abilities your contact center will have once it joins up services. 

Gold-standard self-service

Businesses chase self-service because it knocks about 90% off the cost-to-serve.

Ever better, customers also like to have the option.

A powerful and well-integrated IVR system enables a range of services, meaning far fewer customers need to speak to agents.

I’ve seen cases where businesses have automated a quarter or their inbound calls. That doesn’t even account for the ability of IVR to direct customers to other channels, like SMS service.

Vastly improved call routing

It would be a neat trick if you could get eac caller to the right person (or automated service) first time.

But with your IVR at the heart of contact routing, that’s not such a crazy goal.

You should route customers based on:

  • Customer Lifetime Value
  • Language preference
  • Current call volume
  • Open Helpdesk tickets
  • Agent skills

…and basically anything else you can think of!

You can also use you IVR to improve data hygiene by automatically checking old data with new, and by routinely asking customers to confirm data.

Totally informed, confident informed agents

About 25% of a typical interaction is meaningful interaction. The rest is dull manual research and long pauses.

It’s a bad situation for both customers and agents. Plus, it drags your KPIs out of the window!

Sure would be good if you could cut out the dead air right? Solve those issues a little faster?

That’s just what a tightly integrated IVR system can do. Customers provide information to the conversational IVR… they’re routed based on that information, and data in your other systems… the agent sees that information in a screen pop as the customer arrives.

That screen pop goes a long way towards fabulous customer service. It also boost agent retention by humanizing the overall experience – just another benefit!

All of this is possible with a great – and automated – IVR system. The one trick you need to learn is integration, and it’s a pretty simple trick to learn.

About babelforce

babelforce is a global cloud communications platform focused on No-Code integration and automation. It allows non-technical people to build even the most complex integrated processes for customer-facing teams, particularly in the call center.


TBN Editor

Time Business News Editor Team