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Interactive Voice Response - an overview

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF tones input via a keypad. In telecommunications, IVR allows customers to interact with a company’s host system via a telephone keypad or by speech recognition, after which services can be inquired about through the IVR dialogue. IVR systems can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR systems deployed in the network are sized to handle large call volumes and also used for outbound calling with pre-recorded messages.


DTMF decoding and speech recognition are used to interpret the caller's response to voice prompts. DTMF tones are entered via the telephone keypad. Other technologies include using text-to-speech (TTS) to speak complex and dynamic information, such as e-mails, news reports or weather information. IVR technology is also being introduced into automobile systems for hands-free operation. TTS is computer generated synthesized speech that is no longer the robotic voice traditionally associated with computers. Real voices create the speech in fragments that are spliced together (concatenated) and smoothed before being played to the caller.

An IVR can be deployed in several ways:

1. Equipment installed on the customer premises
2. Equipment installed in the PSTN (public switched telephone network)
3. Application service provider (ASP) / hosted IVR

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 profile the caller and route the call to an agent with a particular skill set. A skill set 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 an account number. 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 does not match the account record.

How to design User friendly IVR System:

Prepare the flow of operations ready with voice prompts that are easy to understand having brief sentences recorded in a pleasant voice.
Do not try to automate everything. Callers mostly feel privileged when humans answer their query. So keep some scope for human interaction.
Design the IVR the way users want to get information and not the way that is convenient to you.
Provide CRM or Database integration as well as options to pull necessary reports and analytics. This will give your company valuable insights into customer behavior.
Go on improving the IVR experience for your callers. Evaluate and upgrade the system from time to time.

Applications of an IVR:

IVR systems are used to service high call volumes at lower cost. The use of IVR allows callers' queries to be resolved without a live agent. If callers do not find the information they need, the calls may be transferred to a live agent. The approach allows live agents to have more time to deal with complex interactions. When an IVR system answers multiple phone numbers, the use of DNIS ( Dialed Number Identification Service) ensures that the correct application and language is executed. A single large IVR system can handle calls for thousands of applications, each with its own phone numbers and script.

BANKING: Banking institutions are reliant on IVR systems for customer engagement and to extend business hours to a 24/7 operation. Telephone banking allows customers to check balances and transaction histories as well as to make payments and transfers. As online channels have emerged, banking customer satisfaction has decreased.

MEDICAL: IVR systems are used by pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations to conduct 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. They are also used in recording patient diaries and questionnaires. IVR systems 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 the potential embarrassment of sensitive information or test results. Users are given a passcode to access their results.

SURVEYING: Some of the largest installed IVR platforms are used for televoting on television game shows, such as Pop Idol and Big Brother, which can generate enormous call spikes. The network provider will often deploy call gapping in the PSTN to prevent network overload. IVR may also be used by survey organizations to ask more sensitive questions where the investigators are concerned that a respondent might feel less comfortable providing these answers to a human interlocutor (such as questions about drug use or sexual behavior). In some cases, an IVR system can be used in the same survey in conjunction with a human interviewer.

IVR Systems are becoming valuable tool for modern business if used correctly. It should be the starting point of customer service and not the end of it.