James WalfordJames WalfordNovember 1, 2019
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8min767

As the move to cloud platforms speeds up, the pressure is on to take advantage of bots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) – especially for IVRs.

Many businesses are at a standstill in adopting AI because they’ve done nothing to their IVRs for a decade or more. Their old IVRs are complex and slow to update, with mediocre customer experience, at best. But most are terrible. The State of IVR in 2018 noted that 83 percent of customers would avoid a company after a poor experience with an IVR.

I recently phoned my utility provider, and the IVR pushed me through eight different menu options. Each option took five to 20 seconds of listening time. By the time I got halfway through the eighth option, I had forgotten what the first one included – and I had to go back to the beginning. Consumers are frustrated by long IVR menu choices.

They’re even turning to online cheat sheets for ways to bypass a particular company’s IVR and get to a live agent.

Fear of change, even when it makes sense

Despite the evidence that customers are frustrated with IVRs, and the rapid decline of the old-school telephony, businesses are still reluctant to change. Some pushback occurs because of successful containment rates of IVRs. For others, it’s fear of changing menu options for customers who know exactly which number to press to self-serve.

One bank told me that they were reluctant to change because they have many customers who program their IVR options into their phones, including their PINs. Banks are exposing themselves – and their customers – to major security breaches, instead of doing anything about it.

While some try improvements like adding automatic speech recognition (ASR) with predefined expressions, they fail to recognise that it’s a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem. They need to fix their outdated design.

IVRs and the challenge of multiple intents

In traditional IVRs, customers select only one option at a time, and the IVR can process only that one intent.

However, most people multitask. Let’s say you dial into an IVR to change your address and open a new savings account. Then you remember that you need to add someone to your existing account. Typically, you’d complete one task and then return to the IVR or have an agent transfer you to another department to do so.

Let’s talk: A conversational IVR can maximise customer Experience

That’s because when those secondary intents come up within the conversation with an agent, the agent isn’t equipped to help. The secondary intent is often not dealt with, recorded or tracked. The customer still needs support, but the case is closed. And all that valuable customer information is lost – along with customer satisfaction.

Voicebots identify multiple intents upfront. They can handle many of them within the IVR and, if needed, pass all those intents on to an agent. Your IVR can become a conversational IVR, capturing context and vastly improving the Customer Experience through personalisation.

This is key to exceptional CX – and using Natural Language Understanding (NLU) within your current IVR makes it possible.

Voicebots and conversational IVR

Google led the modern revolution of conversational AI with NLU.

This technology makes it possible for a voicebot to hold a conversation and conduct back-and-forth questions, prompts and answers – without the customer having to use predefined expressions. In this way, every customer has a hyper-personalised experience.

Conversational IVRs go beyond understanding words as experienced with ASR, to determine what the customer wants and to help the agent understand and respond effectively. Machine learning capabilities enable these increasingly rich conversations – and continually optimise the IVR and improve the Customer Experience.

After the voicebot identifies the intents and self-serves where possible, customers can still go through a standard path within the IVR – or they can be routed to the relevant skilled resource to help them. Voicebots offer a massive opportunity to streamline the entire interaction process.

Let’s say I call my mobile carrier because I’m going on holiday and I want to know what the charges will be when I go overseas. With that one utterance of “I’m going overseas”, a voicebot would understand that this statement likely will require additional information.

The voicebot could ask: “Would you like to enable international roaming?”

If I answer yes, the voicebot could automatically process that request and then inform me of the expected tariffs. And, it can still pass this on to an agent if my questions are too complex. It’s a fluid, hyper-personalised conversation, and it doesn’t have to be complex.

You don’t have to change the entire IVR to use voicebots.

Voicebots move Customer Experience to the forefront

Voicebots not only solve long-standing IVR problems, they also take advantage of the data you already collect. Compare the advantages of conversational IVRs led by voicebots to traditional IVRs that put customer experience second to containment. The time savings, Customer Experience and overall improvement in operational efficiency blow traditional IVRs out of the water.

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