Ross FobianRoss FobianApril 24, 2020


IVRs were invented in the 1960s as a way for businesses to automate the previously manual process of routing calls to the relevant departments. With the introduction of touch-tone dialling, the integration of IVRs into businesses ramped up in the 70s and 80s and then became prolific in the 90s.

But in truth, IVR technology has all but stagnated in its development since then and the core functionality remains notoriously awkward and manual, for both callers and call handlers. We’ve all been on the end of an IVR call, so it’s not surprising to hear that drop off rates can be as high as 50%.

How many times have we all endured an IVR only to get to the end with no option that suits our needs? By the time the generic voice, usually in received pronunciation, starts churning out Press 1 for… we’ve already had enough. The result? Phones are often slammed down in frustration. In fact, the IVR was voted the most annoying invention of all time in 2012. Customers are, at this point, switching off from a brand, meaning businesses could really be missing out.

The IVR problem

Despite the issues that callers and businesses have with IVRs, they have long been the most efficient way of routing customers to their desired location.

We are all too aware in this industry that IVRs are more of a necessary evil, rather than the pinnacle of customer experience. Callers usually want answers quickly, or they’re ready to buy. They don’t want lengthy wait times or endless options to pick from (which they may forget). And, when they finally get to speak to a human, they don’t want to repeat their enquiry all over again.

While digital marketing teams are constantly striving to optimise the online journey for customers and make this as seamless as possible, the journey is broken by an IVR process that now feels antiquated. From a customer service perspective, IVRs rarely contribute to ensuring a brand retains, or even enhances, its reputation across all channels.

Catering to expectations

As well as seamless journeys, consumers today expect personalised experiences too. We expect Netflix to recommend the next binge-worthy series we’ll want to consume based on our previous viewing habits, or for Spotify to tell us what our next favourite album will be. We want UberEats to remember our old orders so we can repeat them, and we crave the convenience of Amazon Prime.

Stretching across eCommerce, entertainment apps, social media and email, personalised digital experiences are delivered to consumers every day. Yet the act of making a phone calls has, until now, been a process untouched by the possibilities that personalisation offers.

The value of phone call personalisation

Everyone in the business of phone calls knows how valuable they can be.

They tend to have a much higher conversion rate than clicks – between 30% and 50%.

As a comparison, the average conversion rate for clicks is 2.35%. Being able to capitalise on this conversion rate and personalise the phone call experience has huge potential for those organisations who rely on inbound phone call revenue. And this goes far beyond your bank knowing your name when you call them.

If brands can use data collated from a caller’s online journey, for example, the IVR can be completely bypassed. Let’s say the caller has been looking at holidays to Florida on a travel website, their subsequent call to the contact centre can be routed to the best call handler for the job – immediately speaking to the Florida expert and not having to ‘Press 1’ for anything.


The results of removing the IVR ‘barrier’ are impressive.

For example, Virgin Holidays removed their short IVR and has seen a 48% increase in call-to-sale conversions. For a business that takes location-specific knowledge for its call handlers seriously (they even send call handlers to their specialist locations for first-hand experience) this has been a big deal.

As for that generic ‘received pronunciation’ IVR, callers can now be linked to an agent with the same accent as them, for an even greater level of personalisation based on where they are calling from.

It may seem like a small barrier, but when customers are ready to buy, the last thing you need is an unnecessary hurdle. Ensuring the customer journey is as smooth and welcoming as possible, and making the phone call feel as personal as possible, can reap big rewards.

RIP IVRs. We can’t say any of us will miss you.

Rob CrutchingtonRob CrutchingtonJuly 31, 2019


Contact centres are challenging places.

There is certainly plenty to think about with the rising cost of salaries, managing schedules to meet customer demand, looking after staff wellbeing, PCI DDSS compliance, and now the added requirements of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Initial concerns about how the new GDPR regulations would affect contact centres, in terms of increasing costs and complexity of managing enquires, have to some extent dissipated. For those contact centres taking payments and already PCI DSS compliant, it was a relatively straightforward process to embrace GDPR regulations. They had typically invested in secure technologies, encryption, and working with third party compliant companies in terms of PCI DSS. On the whole they were able to extend their technology and processes to protect personal data and meet GDPR requirements.

However, other organisations are still evaluating how new ways of streamlining processes can help meet GDPR data governance and management regulation, but are uncertain how to choose the best solution. We have identified three ways that contact centres can apply technology to help them remain compliant:

1. Mobile automated identification & verification (ID &V)

Often a significant amount of time can be spent on identifying and verifying the caller. Having a person perform this task is expensive and means that customer data is at risk. A customer engagement platform is an alternative way to offer a cost-effective, secure solution to automate the screening and identification process.

It can take the customer through set identification questions using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to simulate agent conversations, or it can use SMS text messages to authenticate the device being used. On initial registration and once the two-factor authentication process has been successful, the platform will accept and authorise payment requests that are automatically debited from the card holder’s account.

The advantage of this approach is that all information is encrypted and the agent is not exposed to any personal data, thereby complying with GDPR and PCI DSS. The data is processed and stored securely elsewhere. In addition, having signed up to the service, the customer has agreed to a data handling agreement that sets out how their information can be shared with a third party, ensuring confidentiality.

2. Customer self-service screening using IVR

Accepting credit and debit cards via IVR has long proved to be an effective and secure way of taking payments. It allows customers to pay quickly, via their own unique identifiers – a PIN, date of birth, even voice recognition. Again, reducing or removing agent contact time is a more secure way for contact centres and their customers to comply with PCI DSS. Since everything is fully automated and confidential, the client information is stored centrally and securely within the system hosting the data, taking it out of scope for both PCI DSS and GDPR.

Capturing customer data via IVR also enables calls to be routed to the right agent with the correct skills, in the event of a request to speak to an advisor. The agent then has all of the relevant information available to manage the call successfully, but with key identification data screened, thereby ensuring GDPR compliance.

3. Cloud-based third party payment solutions

The third option to consider, and one that has gained significant traction over recent years, is to choose a cloud-based payment service provider. A trusted third party that complies with PCI DSS demonstrates proven adherence to a recognised security standard, which can also help contact centres to meet the GDPR legislation. Companies can apply a process of ‘de-scoping’ to reduce the number of requirements (tick-boxes) for GDPR, in the same way that they might do for PCI DSS compliance.

Of course, like PCI DSS compliance, the responsibility for GDPR cannot be entirely removed from the contact centre, however the effort required can be dramatically reduced by working in partnership with a payment solution provider.

Aligning GDPR and PCI DSS: the route to successful compliance

There is no doubt that GDPR has improved standards around privacy and data protection, but at what cost? Contact centres that have worked hard to blend people and technology to enhance data and payment processes in the last year, have typically done everything they can to comply with both GDPR and PCI DSS.

For the rest, the good news is that it’s not too late to review what’s in place and make the switch, to new technology and/or a third party solution provider, to enable a secure, multi-channel seamless route for customer payments. The choice is there for the taking.

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