What is Interactive Voice Response?

Category: Voice Response

If your business gets a high volume of phone calls from customers, you may want to consider Interactive Voice Response (IVR), sometimes called Automated Voice Response (AVR). IVR is a computer telephony system that accepts incoming calls; speaks options to callers; and responds to their voice or touchtone commands with more options or information. Read on to learn more about automated interactive voice response systems...



Interactive Voice Response Services

IVR System You've undoubtedly heard interactive voice response systems in action when calling your bank, making hotel reservations, or when booking a flight. "To make a reservation, press 2 or say 'reservations' ..." AVR systems do a pretty good job of understanding a discrete set of spoken words, and providing you with the information you want. And if necessary, an IVR system can connect a caller to a live human being.

When linked to a company's databases, an IVR system can do much more than speak canned scripts and transfer calls. Given a customer's name or account number, it can look up the current status of orders; tell the customer how much money he owes; and even accept and process payments without any human assistance. That sounds pretty tempting to many business owners.

Profits can be increased in two ways by an IVR system. First, a lot of labor costs can be saved. You don't have to pay live operators to answer calls or to just sit there waiting for calls. Second, callers who want to give you money don't have to wait on hold to do so, with the danger that they might get tired of waiting and spend their money elsewhere. If that sounds good to you, there are two ways to implement an IVR system.

You can buy a turnkey IVR phone system from a system integrator. That's a complete hardware and software solution that includes a server computer; specialized telephony cards that handle incoming and outgoing voice traffic; and the software that makes everything work. The system integrator will analyze your business processes and program the system to do what is needed.

IVR Vendors and Services

The technology to run automated telephone response systems, even on low-end personal computers has been around for 20 years or more. If you are interested in creating your own voicemail or voice response system, check out the entry-level products sold by Talking Technology Inc. About 10 years ago, I used a 386 computer, a digital thermometer, and a BigmOuth system from TTI to create a "time & temperature" service and some simple games that interacted with the touchtone keypad. I'll admit that's a bit geeky, but you don't have to be a programmer or even a 'computer person' to make use of a voice response system.

Some well known IVR providers and system integrators include Database Systems Corp. (DBSC), Genesys, Avaya, Cisco, Convergsys/Intervoice, Holly Connects, Nortel, Syntellect, and Voxeo. You can download a report prepared by Datamonitor market researchers that describes the IVR technology and these leading vendors.

The cost of an IVR system can range from a few thousand to over a million dollars. Much of the cost lies in the consulting, programming, installation, training, and maintenance services provided by the systems integrator. But hardware and software are expensive, and then there is the monthly cost of enough phone lines to handle peak traffic. You can save substantial up-front dollars by outsourcing your IVR needs to a hosted IVR service provider.

With an IVR provider you will pay a setup fee that covers the analysis of your needs and custom programming of an IVR system hosted at the service provider's data center. Once the system is in operation, you pay only for the services you use. Service fees are generally based on a per-call fee, and perhaps on "transaction fees" such as customer records accessed, credit card payments processed, etc.

The same vendors who sell turnkey IVR systems offer on-demand services too. Additionally, hundreds of second-tier AVR and IVR service providers are out there. You have to ask questions and check references to make sure you are getting a well-established professional service provider, and not someone with a computer and a couple of phone lines in his spare bedroom.

Do you have something to say about interactive voice response (IVR) systems? Post your comment or question below...


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Posted by Bob Rankin on June 9, 2010 08:11 PM


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