Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Interactive voice response
Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF tones input via keypad.
In telecommunications, IVR allows customers to interact with a company’s host system via a telephone keypad or by speech recognition, after which they can service their own inquiries by following the IVR dialogue. IVR systems can respond with prerecorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR applications can be used to control almost any function where the interface can be broken down into a series of simple interactions. IVR systems deployed in the network are sized to handle large call volumes.
IVR technology is also being introduced into automobile systems for hands-free operation. Current deployment in automobiles revolves around satellite navigation, audio and mobile phone systems.
It's common in industries that have recently entered the telecommunications industry to refer to an automated attendant as an IVR. The terms, however, are distinct and mean different things to traditional telecommunications professionals, whereas emerging telephony and VoIP professionals often use the termIVR as a catch-all to signify any kind of telephony menu, even a basic automated attendant. The term voice response unit (VRU), is sometimes used as well.
Research in speech technology predated the advent of digital computers. It began with a speech synthesis project at Bell Labs in 1936 that resulted in a device called "the Voder" which was demonstrated at the 1939 World's Fair. A link between speech and mathematics resulted in a breakthrough in the early 1970s. Leonard E. Baum, and Lloyd R. Welch, invented an approach to recognition based on a statistical concept called the Hidden Markov Model. In 1961,Bell System developed a new tone dialing methodology. Bell unveiled the first telephone that could dial area codes using DTMF technology at the Seattle World Fair in 1962. DTMF telephones enabled the use of in-band signaling, i.e., they transmit audible tones in the same 300 Hz to 3.4 kHz range occupied by the human voice. The blueprint for IVR was born.
Despite the increase in deployment of IVR technology in the 1970s to automate tasks in call centers, the technology was still complex and expensive. Early voice response systems were DSP technology based, and were limited to small vocabularies. However, in the early 1980s a first mainstream market competitor emerged when Leon Ferber (Perception Technology) realized that hard drive technology (read/write random-access to digitized voice data) had finally reached a cost effective price point. A system could store digitized speech on disk, play the appropriate spoken message, and process the human's DTMF response. The mature technology allowed clusters of 96 channels of high-density digital phone interface gear (terminating four T1 lines of twenty four channels each) to each be controlled by one application processor, running individual applications, one per channel, accepting DTMF touch tone inputs, accessing a large stored vocabulary for output, recording and playing back user speech when necessary.
As call centers began to migrate to multimedia in the late 1990s, companies started to invest in Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) with IVR systems. IVR became vital for call centers deploying universal queuing and routing solutions and acted as an agent which collected customer data to enable intelligent routing decisions.
With improvements in technology, systems could use speaker-independent voice recognition of a limited vocabulary instead of requiring the person to use DTMF signaling.
In the subsequent decade, voice response started to become more common and cheaper to deploy. This was due to increased CPU power and the migration of speech applications from proprietary code to the VXML standard.
IVR systems are typically used to service high call volumes, reduce cost and improve the customer experience. Examples of typical IVR applications aretelephone banking, televoting, and credit card services. Companies also use IVR services to extend their business hours to 24/7 operation. The use of IVR and voice automation allows callers' queries to be resolved without the need for queueing and incurring the cost of a live agent. If callers do not find the information they need or require further assistance, their calls are often transferred to an agent. This makes for a more efficient system in which agents have more time to deal with complex interactions. The agents do not deal with basic inquiries that require yes/no responses or obtaining customer details.
Call centers use IVR systems to identify and segment callers. The ability to identify customers allows services to be tailored according to the customer profile. The caller can be given the option to wait in the queue, choose an automated service, or request a callback. The system may obtain caller line identification (CLI) data from the network to help identify or authenticate the caller. Additional caller authentication data could include account number, personal information, password and biometrics (such as voice print).
When an IVR system answers multiple phone numbers the use of DNIS ensures that the correct application and language is executed. A single large IVR system can handle calls for thousands of applications, each with its own phone numbers and script.
IVR also enables customer prioritization. In a system wherein individual customers may have a different status the service will automatically prioritize the individual's call and move customers to the front of a specific queue. Prioritization could also be based on the DNIS and call reason.
Smaller companies and start-ups can also use an IVR system to make their business appear larger than it is. For example, a caller never needs to know that their Sales and Support calls are routed to the same person.
In addition to interacting with customer information systems and databases, IVRs will also log call detail information into its own database for auditing, performance report, and future IVR system enhancements.
CTI allows a contact center or organization to gather information about the caller as a means of directing the inquiry to the appropriate agent. CTI can transfer relevant information about the individual customer and the IVR dialog from the IVR to the agent desktop using a screen-pop, making for a more effective and efficient service.
IVR may be used by survey organizations for asking more sensitive questions where the investigators are concerned that a respondent might feel less comfortable providing these answers to a human interlocutor (such as questions about drug use or sexual behavior). In some cases an IVR system can be used in the same survey in conjunction with a human interviewer. For example, during the survey the interviewer might inform the respondent that for the next series of questions they will be sent to an IVR system to continue or complete the interview.