It doesn’t seem too long ago that the introduction of interactive voice response (IVR) received a rocky reception with many customers citing that they preferred to speak to a ‘real human’.

However, in the same way that supermarket self-service tills once caused frustration but are now embedded in the way we shop, IVR is now accepted and often preferred by many.

Our addiction to the mini computer in our pockets - our smartphone - continues to change how we communicate and consume information. We’re now used to accessing multiple devices and channels at the same time. Just think of the last time you started watching a film on TV but ended up checking your social media or shopping online at the same time. We don’t always know we are doing it, but many of us switch continuously and seamlessly between numerous channels - it’s now a way of life.

This change in consumer behaviour has also increased expectations. We get frustrated if we can’t find the information we’re looking for, or if we are left waiting in a queue on the telephone. We want answers now – we want our problem solved quickly – we want to wrap it up, move on and get on with our day.

Fusing voice and digital channels seamlessly

Fortunately, like any technology, IVR hasn’t stood still. The arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has presented new opportunities to serve customers in new, better and faster ways. This has led to visual IVR - one of the most exciting recent developments in customer contact management.

Visual IVR brings customer service and online customer experience together by helping customers to switch between a voice call to a digital self-service option. It can be embedded in your app or website and presents your customers with a visual menu that links to your existing IVR system. Rather than a IVR voice guiding the customer through the call, a visual interface uses diagrams, images and text on a smartphone or other device to point the customer in the right direction.

People can generally read a menu of options quicker than it takes to listen to a voice reading them out to them, so they can just touch the path they require as soon as they see it and move on. If they do select the wrong option, they can move back a step in the same way as they do through web pages on a browser. This means they are more likely to find the correct information or to be routed to the department they need quickly.

Importantly, visual IVR fuses voice and digital channels together and enables companies to provide the same great level of customer service across all of their channels, regardless of the device that their customer chooses.

Visual IVR is already having impressive results. When we developed and implemented it for our long-term client O2 we reduced call times and helped customers to resolve their queries faster. In fact, through visual IVR, O2 customers can now complete eight transactions, including unlatching their phone, paying a bill and changing address, three minutes faster than going through the standard contact centre process. We also found that visual IVR retains 15% more callers than the traditional voice IVR transactions.

Delivering a personal service

A key benefit of visual IVR is that it identifies customers accurately and quickly by prompting them to log into their customer account. This speeds up and personalises their interaction with your brand. It also means that their requirements can be gathered and possible solutions displayed for them to select quickly - whether that’s directing them to a self-service option or providing helpful links to FAQs or videos.

I know, from talking to many customer experience officers, that the main strategic focus for their company is post-pandemic growth. Many sectors now need to recapture momentum and are competing for customers who, of course, have plenty of choice. Companies are under pressure to ensure that their customer engagement doesn’t lose relevance or fail to keep up with new expectations.

Fortunately, visual IVR makes existing functionality easier to use for customers, without the need for companies to make wholescale changes to their systems. It doesn’t require a ‘rip and replace’, so with the right implementation partner can be integrated easily. That’s why we are excited to be using it to help our clients meet the needs of their customers and compete with the increasing digital experiences that make up day-to-day life, from the supermarket to the bank to the health service.

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