Interactive voice response (IVR) technology answers customers’ calls and connects them to the right person in your company faster. Done well, they increase customer satisfaction, speed up response time and lower business costs.
There are plenty of choices for companies wanting to implement an IVR system. Most VoIP providers bundle fully customizable IVRs with their telephone and communications packages.
In this article, we explain what IVR systems are and how they work. We also look at what they
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IVR is an automated type of business phone system technology that directs inbound callers to the right department or individual based on their responses to a prerecorded menu.
IVR systems are widely used. Most people have experienced an IVR menu that starts with an automated greeting followed by options to navigate further using keypad inputs or voice commands.
IVR systems can save businesses money by gathering a caller’s information, determining the best person or department to help resolve their issue, and then routing the call to the appropriate phone number or extension without the need for human intervention.
When implemented properly, IVR systems can boost customer satisfaction by reducing hold times and quickly connecting customers to a live agent who can help resolve their issues.
Interactive voice technology was developed in the early 1970s. Still, it didn’t gain widespread use until the ’90s, when computer hard drives that could read and write digitized voice data reached an affordable price point. These early on-premises IVR systems utilized simple dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signals through a standard phone keypad to let callers navigate the IVR software’s menu options to reach the appropriate destination or hear a vital piece of information.
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Today’s IVRs are offered as a primary or advanced feature for companies to consider when choosing a business phone system. Modern IVRs utilize the numbers and corresponding tones on your phone’s keypad as well as speech recognition and natural language processing to identify keywords and terms for navigating the available options in your call tree.
The ability to bypass the IVR menu to speak with a live agent is often available when a caller’s request is difficult to understand or uncommon. While standard call flow templates are available from many providers, most IVR menus and call flows are highly customized for each business. Their quality is determined mainly by the simplicity of their design.
A virtual answering service is another way to interact with callers. Virtual answering services often include IVR as a tool, call forwarding, appointment scheduling and order management.
IVRs are great at helping companies manage their inbound call flows without having employees pick up the phone — saving time and money in the process. While you may expect to come across an auto-attendant and IVR menu when contacting a multinational bank or internet service provider through a large call center, businesses of all sizes and customer levels in nearly every industry can benefit from IVR.
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Companies that hold private or sensitive data, such as financial institutions and healthcare organizations, often implement IVR systems. [Related article: How HIPAA Laws Impact Employers]
These companies let customers check their account balances or hear important medical test results without having to share their personal information with anyone or agreeing that their call can be recorded for training purposes.
IVR systems lower costs by reducing agents’ time gathering information and routing calls manually. However, IVR technology is mutually beneficial for businesses and customers. IVR helps companies to cut costs while providing customers with an efficient service or sales experience.
IVR automatically gathers pertinent data and ensures that a caller doesn’t have to keep repeating their inquiry. It increases the likelihood of giving agents problems they can solve while customers avoid being transferred to multiple departments. What’s great about IVR technology is that most of the problems it solves will positively impact businesses and customers simultaneously.
To implement an IVR system, you’ll need to acquire the capability via a cloud-based business phone system. Many providers offer auto-attendant features that function as automated receptionists to greet callers and route them to the appropriate departments or employees to help resolve their issues.
You can usually configure IVR systems with a drag-and-drop “call tree” interface accessible through a web browser. This easy-to-use visual tool lets you design and customize an IVR menu and call flow to your exact specifications.
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Other business phone providers make implementation manageable with preconfigured routing options that let you choose an agent to answer calls based on longest idle, fixed order, round robin, skills and random selection. This can be especially useful in sales scenarios.
You may also choose the “other routing options” feature to send calls to voicemail, use direct-to-message routing, transfer a call to a specific department or send a call anywhere else you’d like.
Many IVR systems include the ability to set call routing during and after business hours and amid special circumstances, such as holidays. While getting an IVR system up and running is relatively easy and inexpensive, implementing it effectively requires you to have a detailed understanding of your inbound callers’ needs as well as your team’s capabilities.
Getting your IVR up and running efficiently requires a comprehensive understanding of your customers’ needs and your support team’s capabilities.
Older on-premises systems can cost upward of $1,500 per line, with additional fees for configuration, maintenance and software updates. You could theoretically implement a cloud-based IVR for as low as $10 per month, but how cloud-based phone systems are priced means it’s not quite that simple.
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IVR functionality is generally among the features included as part of business phone systems and the best call center services. Most of these cloud-based communication platforms are priced per user in monthly or annual terms. So, while you could technically implement an IVR system with a single user account for as low as $10 per month, your ability to route all your calls to a live agent who can take advantage of your modern phone system’s features would likely require additional users and associated user fees.
Custom enterprise-level pricing is typically available at a lower cost per user for companies with more than 100 subscribers.
An automated phone system that doesn’t seem to understand your simple requests or have the option to route you to a human is among the worst customer experiences possible. That’s why it’s important to consider some simple best practices when setting up and using a new IVR system.
Generally speaking, it takes a thorough understanding of your callers’ historical and future needs and your team’s capabilities to design and implement an efficient IVR system.
Simplicity is the most crucial aspect of an effective IVR system. That means keeping recorded messages brief and limiting menu options to those that can be easily understood and likely remembered by a caller who’s hearing the list for the first time.
Remember that callers may not be sure which option is the best for their needs and will likely want to consider all available options before selecting the best one.
A properly designed IVR menu will always include an option to reach a live agent. While you may be tempted to force your callers to self-select into your well-crafted IVR menu to provide the best support possible, you may be setting up people for frustration.
Even the most robust menu options and advanced voice recognition capabilities won’t serve every caller’s needs. Withholding the option to get callers to a live agent quickly can make them feel neglected, leading to a poor customer experience that may subsequently take additional time and resources for a live agent to help resolve.
It will be difficult for a customer to believe their call truly is your priority if they’re reminded about it every 30 seconds while on hold for extended periods. Try to keep your announcements limited to call transfers, letting callers who’ve been on hold prepare to connect with a human.
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Providing an additional or non-primary language option at the end of your menu recognizes the preferences and requirements of millions of potential customers. For example, the United States has the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world. In fact, 13 percent of the U.S. population speaks Spanish at home, and by 2050, as many as 1 in 3 people in the U.S. will speak Spanish.
Ensure that the information you collect through your automated system is provided to your agents for a mutually beneficial experience. Otherwise, your IVR may come across as efficient for your business at the expense of your customers, who will have to repeat themselves multiple times.
We regularly update and refresh our list of reviews of the best business phone systems. Below, find eight providers that offer IVR as part of their service.
Vonage’s IVR system is branded “Virtual Receptionist.” It’s available to Premium and Advanced subscribers. Fees drop the more users you have on your system — their current prices are $29.99 per user per month for the Premium plan and $39.99 for the Advanced plan. Please note that the company regularly makes offers to encourage new sign-ups, so bookmark their site to see when they launch their next time-limited deal.
Key features of Virtual Receptionist include:
Read our comprehensive review of Vonage.
IVR is available for all Dialpad users. They have three plans: $15 per month for Standard, $25 for Pro and Enterprise for larger companies (contact Dialpad for a quote).
Dialpad’s IVR offers the following features:
Read our in-depth review of Dialpad.
As with Vonage, Nextiva has three plans whose rates depend on how many users you have on the system.
A one-tier IVR option is available on the Essential tier ($18.95 per month). To access the multi-level IVR which offers sub-menus, you’ll need to be on the Professional tier whose price per month per user is $22.95 or Enterprise whose fees are $32.95 per month.
A conversational AI-powered advanced IVR is available for an additional charge. This allows users to speak to the IVR system in their natural language rather than go through an entire menu of options. AI then processes to direct them to the correct department.
Read our comprehensive NextivaONE review.
IVR functionality is available to RingCentral Phone System users on all tiers. Current prices are Core at $20 per user per month, Advanced at $25 and Ultra at $35. If you pay monthly, the fees are higher.
Key features include:
Read our in-depth RingCentral review.
Ooma’s general IVR feature is called “Virtual Receptionist” and is available on all three subscription tiers. They cost, at annual rates, $19.95 per user per month for Essential, $24.95 for Pro and $29.95 for Pro Plus.
Their Virtual Receptionist product includes the following:
Read our latest Ooma review.
Zoom’s auto attendant facility is available on all three plans, currently priced at $10, $15 and $20 per user based on the types of outbound calls you want to make.
Zoom IVR features include:
Read our updated Zoom review.
GoTo Connect offers its IVR service on both of their plans, currently priced at $27 per user per month for the Basic tier and $32 for the Standard tier. Basic tier customers can only record one IVR greeting while standard clients can record unlimited greetings.
Read our latest review of GoTo Connect.
8×8 offers five plans, all of which include a multi-level auto attendant. There are two Unified Communications tiers (X2 and X4) and three Contact Center tiers (X6, X7 and X8). Annual fees range from $28 per month per user on X2 to $140 on X8.
Key IVR features include:
Read our updated review of 8×8.
Jeff Hale contributed to this article.