The interactive voice response (IVR) market has exploded in recent years and could reach as high as $6.7 billion by 2026. Much of that growth can be attributed to the rise in smartphone usage, with worldwide mobile network subscriptions worldwide reaching nearly 6.4 billion in 2022 (and projected to exceed 7.7 billion by 2028). That means more than 80% of the world’s population owns a smartphone.
Another contributing factor to the IVR craze: high demand for self-service options following the global pandemic. While forced to adopt the new technology at first, consumers have since come to prefer self-service interactions, including IVR. In a recent McKinsey & Company podcast, senior knowledge expert Vinay Gupta revealed that more than 50 percent of banking, telco and utility callers are engaging with IVR in meaningful ways. And that number is only expected to increase as the technology evolves and matures.
“There’s a lot of improvement that has happened in the NLU-capability space,” explains Gupta. “IVR can understand customer intent without the customer having to navigate a complex menu of options. And a lot of companies have already implemented NLU-based IVR, where a customer can say anything—they don’t have to navigate the options.”
The Role of AI in IVR Systems
At its core, an IVR is an automated system that answers incoming calls and provides instructions to customers. For years, companies have relied on IVRs to handle simple self-service requests. These include answering frequently asked questions and automating basic customer service tasks. However, today’s IVRs can handle a wider range of caller queries than ever, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and conversational AI in particular.
Conversational AI uses natural language understanding and processing (NLU and NLP) together with machine learning to recognize caller speech and text patterns, predict their intents and respond with an adaptive, automated script. This allows for more natural, adaptive and human-like IVR interactions. It also enables IVRs to handle more complex queries, feeding consumers’ growing hunger for self-service and driving up adoption rates.
Solving the Challenges with IVR
As IVR adoption continues to grow, regular voice calls will come to be seen as quaint. With the rise of conversational AI, consumers have come to expect even more from interactive voice systems. They’re also quick to share their grievances when systems don’t meet their expectations.
According to an online study on IVR usage, 94% of respondents reported experiencing frustrations when using voice channels to communicate with a company. The top frustrations among callers: having to repeat themselves (52%) and having to wait to talk to a live agent (49%). Clearly, there is room for improvement.
While IVR has been a key component of the contact center toolkit for many years, technology is changing. Not only has conversation AI improved; it has also been augmented by generative AI, emotion AI and knowledge AI. These developments (and others) are enabling businesses to unlock even more benefits—and drive greater value—from their IVR systems.
Here are five innovations in IVR software you can deploy today.
Top 5 Ways AI is Improving IVR in the Contact Center
Visual / multimodal IVR is replacing mobile calls. Powered by AI, this type of IVR engages several channels to support a single interaction. As a result, it simplifies the customer journey and guides callers to the answers they need faster than traditional IVR.
Advanced conversational AI options:
Artificial intelligence allows companies to respond to customers faster and with more accuracy. Today’s highly sophisticated natural language processing and machine learning capabilities allow businesses to continuously fine-tune and improve their IVRs—and do so at scale.
Another important consideration is whether conversational AI engages customers on both the voice and digital channels. Does it recognize intent? Can the technology be responsive in getting your customers where they need to go
Intent, sentiment and emotion detection:
In addition to understanding human language, today’s highly sophisticated AI platforms can detect a caller’s intent, sentiment and emotional state with remarkable accuracy. IVRs with emotion AI capabilities are able to capture a fuller picture of a customer’s needs, problems and level of satisfaction. They can then use this contextual data to create a more targeted experience that’s tailored to the caller’s unique circumstances.
They can also transfer contextual information to a live agent if a call is escalated. This not only provides agents with key details and considerations (i.e. when to apply empathy to a frustrated caller), but it also ensures a continuity of service across channels.
Omnichannel reporting of cross-channel journeys:
AI-powered IVRs can help your customer service representatives understand your customer’s journey like never before. In addition to reducing customer effort and average handling time, this new breed of IVRs uses real-time data to help you analyze and visualize:
- How customers reach you
- Where they stumble
- New intentions
- A/B test results
- Self-service usage and adoption
One low-code automation platform:
Only 8% of businesses have all their channels of engagement connected. It’s common practice to build the same process using a different toolkit on each channel. However, this process is highly cost- and time-intensive.
This no longer needs to be the case.
By using low-code automation, you can apply AI and automation to all your customer service processes. You can harmonize and elevate your existing systems and channels, and your customers can enjoy a consistent and connected experience.
Using a unified platform also allows your call center to manage and control the technology and reduce dependence on IT. This lowers your total cost of ownership (TCO) and increases the agility of your customer operations. And your costs won’t multiply as new channels emerge—investing in low-code automation removes the obstacles to self-service adoption.
Why You Should Replace Your IVR with an AI Solution
Artificial intelligence not only creates a better customer experience for IVR users; it unearths a goldmine of rich business value that extends well beyond the self-service channel. The latest AI—including recent innovations in generative, emotion and knowledge AI—together with advanced natural language processing and robotic process automation represent new possibilities for understanding your customers like never before. And the more businesses understand their customers—their preferences, motivations and behaviors—the more they can drive better outcomes.