IVR and the Freedom to Speak

Freedom of speech means many things. When it comes to your IVR, it means the freedom for your customers to leave behind the telephone touchpad and speak to the system in your own words and your own language. It’s moved beyond nice to have—today it’s become an imperative for companies who want to keep up with their marketplace.

Farewell DTMF

There’s not a long life left for Touchtone Only IVRs. You’ll see it fade away in the next few years. You might think that Touchtone would be fine for simple menu selections: press 1 for service, press 2 for billing. And you’d be right: theoretically at least. But the habits of the marketplace are going to make it obsolete, for one simple reason: mobility. Your customers—especially your younger demographics—connect with you on the anywhere anytime model, often hands free on the road. Touchtone Only is going to become increasingly awkward and inconvenient for them.

Some of you may already be seeing that in your customer profiles and call patterns. Fewer people registering with landline only and more with mobile only. More calls coming in on those mobile numbers. Maybe even diminishing containment rates and increasing abandonment rates from those numbers.

All of which points to adoption of some level of speech recognition technology in your IVR.

But how much speech do you need to reach the customer?

It might be less than you think. Let’s look at the options.

Good with Numbers

“Press or Say” is the most basic, and the least costly, speech technology. Generally, there are only ten words the IVR has to recognize: the nine numerals that correspond to the keypad buttons, and one to get them to the agent. There are nuances. The IVR has to be able to recognize accents, multiple languages and so forth. But still it’s the lowest cost for the lowest speech capability.

And for many companies, that’s just right.

If you use your IVR to simply direct people to the correct live agent, this is the right choice. It’s also the right alternative when you want to handle basic issues like identification and authentication (callers can say their account number and PIN, social security and so on).

Good with Words

A lot of companies take a step up from Press or Say to Directed Speech. That’s exactly what the name implies. The IVR directs the caller to say specific words to move through the menus. There’s an incremental cost over Press or Say for the broader vocabulary and the more sophisticated recognition capabilities. But Directed Speech provides a more personal experience for your caller, simply by allowing them to use descriptive words (“Press 1 or Say Billing”) instead of just numbers.

If your IVR is intended to handle the call through to its resolution, Directed Speech is a much more comfortable way for you to encourage your customers to stay with the IVR system.

Directed Speech is a good transition step for companies that don’t need to provide sophisticated speech services, but are ready to invest in the quality brand experience customers have when they speak to the IVR in their own language.

Good with People

Natural Language is the most sophisticated, the most expensive, the longest to implement . . . and it has the smallest marketplace of all the technologies. The grammars are extensive: customers can specify their intent using a wide range of phrases. Most companies can reach the customer just fine without Natural Language. But major players in major industries use it because they have to continually project a cutting-edge profile in order to remain competitive. It’s a pretty significant investment and the brand value has to be worth it. Another type of company for whom this level of sophistication is justified are those who are allowing complex interactions—including sales and self service support—that are too complex for Directed Speech.