Using Integrated Voice Response (IVR) to Gauge Customer Experience

Contributor:  Harsh Zadoo
Posted:  09/23/2009  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Integrated Voice Response technology has come of age, opening up new and rather unconventional approaches for Call Centers to gauge the quality of the experience they deliver to customers. A two-way interactive Integrated Voice Response link in its simplest rendition appears fairly innocuous.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology is a class of hardware and software applications that process voice and keypad inputs into enterprise wide computers, for specific results. Input from a user (customers) through voice or touchtone keypad is processed through a computer as electrical signals (touchtone) or speech recognition (voice), enabling human/machine interaction, unlike before. 



Historical Perspective

Companies began using the Integrated Voice Response system in the 1970s to automate tasks in call centers, but the technology was costly and complicated, making for low market penetration. By the 1980s a number of competitors entered the market, and Integrated Voice Response technology adoption increased. When call centers began to migrate to multimedia contact centers in the late '90s (voice, chat and e-mail), companies began to invest in Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) with Integrated Voice Response systems. Since then, Integrated Voice Response has become vital for the call center, deploying queuing and routing solutions and collecting customer data to enable intelligent business decisions.

Technology Evolution

Having remained technologically static since inception in the 1980s, speech recognition became cheaper to deploy, therefore common, and an enabler for Integrated Voice Response. Increasing processor power and migration of Speech applications from proprietary code to the VXML standard, further enabled integration between Integrated Voice Response systems and back end hosts.

This leveraged value adding services rendered at both ends of the communication link. Customers can get service from an application at one end (bank account balance information) while also enabling the application to aggregate information about the user/customer. This information helps a "listening" enterprise to realize rich dividends in improved customer experience, while positioning a rich portfolio of service offerings for its customers.

The Oportunity Today

The two-way interactive Integrated Voice Response process in its simplest rendition, appears fairly innocuous, but becomes a potent tool in the hands of savvy managers, hungry for competitive advantage. Today, there are more people with cell phones, than with computers. Integrated Voice Response systems can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio instructions that guide users. They are now deployed to service high call volumes, reduce cost and improve the customer experience. Examples of typical Integrated Voice Response applications are: telephone banking, telephone voting and credit card transactions. Large companies use Integrated Voice Response services to extend the business hours of operation. Call centers use Integrated Voice Responses systems to identify and segment callers, even triage customer issues.

The ability to identify customers allows an enterprise to stage services according to the customer profile, including automated services. Typical Integrated Voice Response choices one may have experienced are: wait in the queue, choose an automated service, or request a callback (at a suitable time and telephone number). Use of computer telephony integration (CTI) allows Integrated Voice Response systems to look up the caller line identification (CLI) on a network database and identify the caller to a certain level of accuracy. Where caller line identification is inaccessible, customers may be identified by opting into other data fields, such as a PIN or password.

The use of Integrated Voice Response and voice automation enables a company to improve its customer service and lower its costs, due to the fact that callers’ queries can be resolved without the cost of a live call center representative who, in turn, can be directed to deal with specific areas of the service. If the caller does not find the information he or she needs, or require further assistance, the call is then transferred to an agent who can serve directly through computer telephony integration.

This makes for a more efficient system in which call center representatives have more time to deal with complex interactions, for example, customer retention, up selling, cross selling and issue resolution. So, customers more likely to be satisfied with a personalized service and interaction are likely to be more fulfilling and rewarding for the call center representative, as opposed to an agent dealing with basic enquiries that require yes/no responses, such as obtaining customer details. Employee satisfaction is important due to the fast turnover of staff, and Integrated Voice Response is one way of workforce retention by allowing staff to do a more effective job.

The following drill down on Integrated Voice Response-based surveys as one of the most promising areas of this technology and its ability to deliver a rapid pulse check of customer experience for an enterprise is catching on.

Integrated Voice Response Facilitated Customer Survey

Review of Integrated Voice Response surveys and their ability to critically differentiate the satisfaction a customer is experiencing while interacting with an enterprise follows. This section provides survey related insights gained from real life implementation and system improvement. Information is geared towards hands on setup of Integrated Voice Response surveys to provide metrics and content that can help managers gauge and improve customer experience.

A. The architecture of a survey flow is greatly enabled by Integrated Voice Response technology to direct flow of questions in an adaptive manner, driven more by the customer response. This is a huge satisfier for busy customers who do not want to be presented options that are not relevant to their request. Example, if there is a "first time buyer" component to your Integrated Voice Response survey, and the customer is a repeat customer, steering them to the "first time buyer" set of questions is a turn off.

B. Use SMART objectives to stage questions to your customers:

1. Be Specific—customer time is of the essence. Clear, audible and accent neutral messages that specifically guide customers to the content and/or context of their interaction—get results. Lead in information at the start of a survey should specify the average time required to take the Integrated Voice Response survey. This duration should match what was specified to the customer at the point where s/he opted in, to take the survey.

 2. Be clear about your scale of Measure—Articulate clearly in the instructions the "rules" behind the  customer’s response options, or scaling criteria that customers need to be aware of—"Press 5 for 'Overall Service being great,' and press 1 for 'Overall service needing lot of improvement.'"  For either selection, if time allows, you may ask for verbal feedback with a time limited 30 to 60 second audio record of customer feedback. Feedback can provide useful insight from the Integrated Voice Response.

3. Questions must have a context Achievable within the domain of the customer’s experience instance. So, don’t stage a question about other services not germane to the service that triggered the Integrated Voice Response Survey. If you must, say to get a feel for future value propositions, articulate that very clearly as part of the question.

4. Of course, every question has to be Relevant to the immediate experience the customer had, which prompted them to opt in for an Integrated Voice Response feedback survey. Managers have to be true to this! Customer memories linger and can sometimes form an opinion about an enterprise based on the quality, precision and brevity of questions and the Integrated Voice Response survey, in general.

5. Time-bound Integrated Voice Response surveys are apt to produce results. This applies to the overall survey, and also to any free form audio feedback requested from a customer. When you allow the customer to give audio feedback, allow no more than 90 seconds. Or else customers tend to ramble. A lot of times a 90 second Integrated Voice Response feedback can be more actionable than mountains of data.

C. Integrated Voice Response survey based information is farmed from the back end hardware through Integrated Voice Response application that allows access to the raw data and recordings. Some applications allow reports that are hierarchically arranged to provide statistics and recordings at the enterprise level—For Site, Queue, and Individual call center representative.

D. Most Integrated Voice Response based survey feedback is provided through calibration sessions directly to call center representatives– either interactively by supervisor, or through a Web application for direct feedback.

E. Quality teams may utilize several modes of root cause and closed loop corrective action methods that move enterprise organizations to markedly improve customer experience and end to end customer serving processes.
Some interactive business use cases Integrated Voice Response based surveys have been successfully used to measure and improve customer experience are:

  • Airline (Ticket booking, Flight arrivals, Flight departures, Check-in)—Integrated Voice Response Survey can help the airline gauge how satisfied the customer was with the service offering. It helps the airline answer questions, such as:
    • Were flight departure and arrival details provided in a timely manner and accurately?
    • Was the infrastructure for providing the service working to the customer’s satisfaction?
    • Were the booking and check-in agents courteous, and did they resolve the customer’s problem rapidly?
  • Telephone Banking—Integrated Voice Response Survey helps gauge service speed and accuracy as perceived by customers. Accent neutralization and Speech clarity could also be gauged through Integrated Voice Response questions.
  • Mobile (Pay as you go)—Integrated Voice Response Survey gauges the speed and accuracy of service as perceived by customers, and then use of Quality circles to reach improved aspiration goals.
  • Caller Identification and Routing—Integrated Voice Response Survey can gauge routing success and improve algorithms for higher accuracy.
  • Credit Card-Based Transactions (Credit Card Payment)—Integrated Voice Response Survey helps solve process bugs where interactive experience for customer does not meet expectations and can be improved.
  • Buying Products on 1-800 Phone Lines (Computer buying)—Integrated Voice Response Survey data can help enterprise gauge if agent met the customer’s need effectively and efficiently. Data drill down can point to areas of infrastructure or call center representative improvement.


In enterprises, dramatic improvements are being leveraged using the potential of Integrated Voice Response based customer surveys. Every situation may be unique, but these solutions are transportable to your next customer experience improvement effort.

First published on Call Center IQ.

Harsh Zadoo Contributor:   Harsh Zadoo


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