What is IVR, and how does it improve the customer support experience?

IVR technology can be a game changer for contact centers. Discover what exactly it is, and what the business benefits are.

By Liz Bauer

Published September 30, 2020
Last updated September 30, 2020

The customer service industry is continually evolving. It seems like every day there’s a new social media platform your agents need to adopt to stay relevant to your customers.

The good news is, one thing hasn’t changed: People still prefer a phone call over any other customer support channel. (Yes, even millennials.)

If you want to win over your customers for life, you need to offer exceptional over-the-phone customer support. The trouble comes with trying to find a solution that improves agent efficiency and lowers business costs.

That’s where IVR technology can help.

What is IVR, and how does it work?

You know when you call a business and hear the automated menu, “For billing, press 1; to hear business hours, press 2 . . .”?

That’s IVR (interactive voice response). It works by collecting information from a customer (e.g., problem type or account number) and using it to route their call to the appropriate agent.

How IVR works

IVR systems collect that information by prompting callers to select an option using their phone’s touch-tone keypad. Some IVRs use advanced voice recognition technology, so callers can say their problem into the phone’s speaker instead of selecting numbered options on their keypad.

IVRs can also direct callers to prerecorded answers. Instead of waiting to talk to an agent, customers can get quick answers to common questions, like, “What time do you open today?” Customers can find the information they’re looking for independently, and agents can dedicate their time to more complex issues.

With this functionality, IVR technology is a cost-effective solution for support teams. You’re able to resolve more issues as a support team without needing to make additional hires.

Benefits of IVR

4 customer support benefits of an IVR system

Customers have increasingly high standards for support. In fact, 65% expect customer service to be faster than it was five years ago.

That’s where IVRs can be a game changer. They help customers resolve their issues quickly, without needing to be transferred between departments. IVRs can even provide 24/7 support for common issues, as well as prioritize callers based on their customer status.

  1. Faster resolution time

    During our 2020 Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, we asked consumers, “What is the most important aspect of a good customer service experience?”

    Not surprisingly, a resounding majority said, “I can resolve my issue quickly.”

    IVRs are like Siri or Alexa, but for your customers. They call in, tell the system what they want, and—voilà: they get the information they need quickly, from the best source (agent) available.

    You can even use your IVR to set up prerecorded responses to FAQs, such as business hours, promotions, and directions. Customers can get answers to simple questions quickly without ever needing to speak to an agent.

    IVRs don’t just save time for customers, either. By deflecting and fielding simple questions, the technology allows agents to focus on solving more complex customer issues.

    It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

  2. Higher first-contact resolution

    Sixty-eight percent of customers say they get annoyed when their call is transferred between departments. Interactive voice response helps avoid the scenario altogether by ensuring that calls are routed to the right agent off the bat. This increases the overall speed and efficiency of a support team and helps improve first-contact resolution (FCR) rate.

    IVRs automatically route callers to the appropriate agent based on the customer’s issue. Say, for example, a customer has questions about a recent invoice they received. All they have to do is press the right number on their keypad when prompted by the IVR (e.g., “Press 1 for questions about your bill”).

    To maintain a high FCR rate, adjust your IVR system to fit customers’ changing needs. Maybe you’ve released a new product, and customers are calling to learn more about it. With IVR, you can improve FCR by routing those callers to the agents who know the product best.

  3. 24/7 support

    Round-the-clock support is the second most important aspect of a good customer service experience, second only to quick resolution. But not every business has the employee bandwidth to provide 24/7 service.

    Remember those prerecorded responses to FAQs? Yep, that’s your answer to 24/7 support.

    Here’s an example: Last weekend, my internet went down. Unfortunately, I live in one of those towns that has only one local internet provider. And—you guessed it—they’re closed on the weekends.

    Annoyed and impatient, I called their customer service number anyway. And, right away, I was directed to a prerecorded message that explained exactly why the internet was out (a downed pole in my neighborhood). The message even gave a timeline for when they expected repairs to be complete.

    The company’s IVR provided me with real-time support, even outside of their normal working hours. And on their side, it probably took only about 30 seconds to record the message. With IVR, 24/7 is possible, no matter how big or small your company is.

  4. Call prioritization

    Two customers call your support number at the exact same time. Customer #1 pays for your lowest-tier subscription, valued at $20 a month. Customer #2 pays for your VIP package, valued at $250 a month. Which one would you help first?

    Customer service agents need a system for prioritizing calls based on potential impact. After all, 58% of consumers stop buying from a company after a single bad customer service interaction. You simply can’t afford to make high-value customers wait.

    With an IVR system, you can assign priorities to specific phone numbers. That way, when a VIP customer calls support, they’ll instantly be placed at the top of the queue and assigned to the most capable agent.

    This level of support will leave your VIPs feeling valued and cared for. They’ll be more likely to buy from you again, as well as recommend you to friends and family. Ultimately, you’ll be able to increase retention and referrals rates—at the same time.

Press “1” for exceptional customer support

Our phones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. To provide the level of support your customers expect, offer quick, personalized, 24/7 support over the phone.

An easy and cost-effective way to do that is with an IVR system. And with Zendesk Talk, it takes only a few minutes to set up. Get started with a free trial today.

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