The Voice of Conversational IVRs

In the past decade alone, we have come so far with phone usage. In fact, ten years ago, most people still had corded home phones (remember home phones?) and there were an awful lot of flip phones. It’s hard not to envision a world where voice recognition systems will be completely conversational. It’s also not hard to imagine that your customers will expect them.

We’ve seen how consumer spending is being driven by cell phones. The fact is businesses have a plan in place to attract, field, and convert these phone calls, and conversational IVR is a big part of this plan.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems direct people in the use of their phone keypad. This has obvious limitations, such as when you have to spell something. The twelve buttons on the phone must be able to act as a 26-letter alphabet. That’s not all. This same keypad is expected to communicate all the things your customers need to communicate to you. It’s limited, to say the least.

That’s where conversational voice recognition comes in.

The early versions left customers unsatisfied. The systems often sent consumers to the wrong departments, or even worse, did not even register the customers’ responses. This meant the customer was forced to repeat their responses when they actually got to an operator.

In recent years, technology has improved dramatically and conversational IVR is becoming so commonplace that consumers now expect them. So, as these systems have improved, so have consumer’s attitudes to them.

Nuance Communications recently published a white paper that cites a number of positive (and changing) attitudes regarding voice recognition.

  • 82% of U.S. adults want conversational IVR, even when the options are a system that leads to awkward interaction with the keypad or one that sounds like it was written in 2005. They want a voice recognition system that’s easy to interact with and helps them get the information they want as quickly as possible.
  • 83% of U.S. adults say that IVR quality affects their opinion of a company. There’s no question about this. The key here is to produce an IVR that gives consumers (users) what they want/need, not what you want to get from them. In this sense, it takes a bit of finesse in the design.

So, let’s compare these numbers (and emotions) between touchtone IVR (keypad) and conversational IVR.

Touchtone IVR

  • 54% annoying and boring
  • 47% irritating
  • 28% efficient

40% of consumers will transfer to an agent if there is not an option in the first menu for the reason that they are calling. The key here, again, is good planning which includes anticipating all the potential reasons the consumers/users are calling and to address that reason quickly. If it requires a second menu to get them there, and let’s face it, that will happen a lot, design your system so that consumers can almost visualize that their reason for calling is coming up soon.

Conversational IVR

  • 65% friendly
  • 64% easy
  • 59% helpful and efficient

55% of consumers say that a personalized IVR leaves a positive impression of the company. There are now ways in which your information can be recognized when you call a certain number; for instance, many cell phone providers recognize the consumer based on their number and ask them if they want to pay their bill using the same card that they previously used. That’s a very interactive IVR and it’s something customers will look forward to.

IVRs that offer consumers the option to get a call-back when the next operator is available are increasing in popularity. In fact, more than half of the consumers that were questioned said that they would absolutely use an IVR if it offered the option to get a call-back.

So yes, IVRs and consumers’ attitudes toward them have changed over the past decade. Voice Recognition has gotten better at delivering what consumers/users want, so just think where we will be in another ten years.

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