Tell me about IVR systems.

Anyone have any experience with interactive voice response systems? We’re in need of a short, simple one for the workplace, and I’m just putting my feelers out to see if anyone has used them. Who did you go to? Does your local phone company have decent pricing, or is it even available? What about those online dealies, how/how well do they work?

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I work with a product from Edify — now a part of Intervoice — which is probably 'way more than you need (it functions as a multimedia portal that communicates with phone, web, email, pager, BlackBerry, and for all I know, Aldis lamp and smoke signals).

From my experience, the touchiest part of any IVR system is the telephony interface. It’s also the weakest link: if something’s not working with our system, odds are that the IVR server has lost contact with the PBX. But once you have that down (and a good phone card vendor will provide the necessary drivers and basic programming instructions), a reasonably good developer should be able to write an application to detect that the phone is ringing, answer it, play a prerecorded prompt, accept a response, and act on it. I know I’ve seen sample code in VB and VC++ that do it.

But ultimately the answer to the question(s) depends on the specifics of what you want to do. If you want a call router, or an application which pulls simple information from a known and well-defined database, that’s one thing; if you need something more elaborate (until recently, ours handled open enrollment), you may need to look at an outside service.

Not the best answer, I know; but about the best I can do on a Friday evening with the information provided.

My IVR experience is with systems considerably larger than you’re talking about, so I can’t make any specific recommendations (not that I could honestly recommend the systems I work with, anyway).

Since all you need is a short, simple script, it could probably be handled either with some relatively simple software on your own servers or by outsourcing it. Probably the biggest single consideration is call volume, both in terms of total calls and the number of simultaneous calls you have to handle. Those will play a major role in figuring out how much your solution will cost.

I don’t think anyone can provide much more advice than Otto already has without more information.

I was littorally screaming at one in my car today , trying to get to customer service. Rogers , a cell phone telecom service has an IVR called mellanie , I think when it first got introduced it was a pain to deal with, until last year sometime when you could again push buttons , instead of hearing some lady voice going I did’nt get that.

So I was trying to change a phone number from one area code , to another one and I was following the basic instructions, where at one point it should have had mellanie asking me if i wanted to talk with a human CS agent.

I should mention that my suspicion was that the system could probably be tweaked in such a way that customer service can turn off the function that alerts the humans, and loop back to the IVR.

I think for what you need ,your local teleco should have a boiler plate solution , I remember my family having something like that with our home line, voice mail obviously ,but contact em.

Just hope that their IVR does not make you scream


Wiki link for some basics.

I helped write a custom IVR system, and I’ve been supporting it in different versions for over 13 years. I don’t know much about the pricing end - I’m a tech guy.

From your other recent posts, I’m leaping to the conclusion you work in a retail store. Let me guess that you want people to be able to get directions, hours, maybe a list of specials, and to transfer to different departments (billing, front desk, shoes, etc.), that sort of thing. I’ve heard of making such a system out of a voice mail system. You’ll need to be able to record the messages for the “mailboxes”, and set up transfers. Your local telco can probably do this on their equipment. Anyone else who sells voice mail system can probably do that also.

One thing I do know about pricing is that if you add voice recognition the price goes waaay up. If you want something cheap, stick to Touch-Tone[sup]TM[/sup] key input. Modern voice recognition is surprisingly good, but it’s neither perfect nor cheap. Not as god as Star Trek, but pretty darned good.

Be very careful on the design and specs of the system. As Declan’s experience shows, too many IVR systems are poorly designed to the point of user frustration, or purposely designed to keep users away from human customer service reps. I have a low opinion of bad design, and a pit-worthy opinion of design meant to be un-helpful to customers. Those people are paying you, dammit! :mad:

If you want your system to do more than provide back information and maybe transfer some calls (“Automated attendant” functions), then you’ll need a full-blown IVR system. For example, if you want customers to be able to check on order status without human intervention, or place orders on the phone, not just get hours and directions. That will be a lot more expensive. You’ll need a system, and the programming services behind it. Not only the voice script, the telephone programming (how many phone lines of what type and how busy lines are handled, etc. - done by or in concert with your local Telco, no matter who your IVR vendor is), but also the programming of the IVR talking with the back-end system. If a customer is to check order status, the customer needs to be able to enter an order number, the IVR needs to pass that number to the order tracking system, and the IVR needs to get the data back from the order tracking system and speak it to your customer. Most IVR systems come with programming tools to build this interface, and can run 1-3 such interfaces, depending on traffic level.

That sort of query system is being handled by web sites more and more these days. If you have an existing web site you want to phone-ify, then ask vendors about VoiceXML. (It’s another area of my ignorance, I’m embarrassed to say. :smack: ) Or use your web site as a model for the voice script. Again, think carefully - you can read faster than you can hear. For reasons unknown to me, the same people who are cursing and are slamming down the phone after ten seconds on hold will wait for minutes for a web page to finish loading. Well, one or two minutes. And filling out a web form can be done in “parallel” whereas listening is a serial process.

We’ve only worked with a couple of vendors - most recently Nortel and Avaya. We’ve just started with Avaya and they’ve been fine so far. Our relationship with Nortel was equally good, but the customer had a lot of Avaya equipment and wanted the new version of the system to use Avaya equipment also.

We’ve also worked with a lot of local telcos over the years. If you’ve only dealt with telcos for one or two lines in your residence, or a few business lines, you will be shocked at how bad telcos can be in their own business. Check everything repeatedly. Badger them until they get it right, and as promised. Sometimes we’ve had pretty good experiences with local telcos. Most of the time, not so good. On at least one occasion the telco had mistakes on every phone line in a big order, and some lines had multiple mistakes. Yes, they had a greater than 100% error rate. :eek:

I’ve prattled on long enough. Good luck! Let us know how it goes, if you can.

Thank you all for your information! It is a small business, and 90% of our calls are “what are your XX location numbers?”, “could you explain your policy to me?”, “what are your hours?”, and maybe directions. We have a limited number of people on the floor, and those phone calls where we have to explain our policy ad naseum could be time better used to serve customers in the store. We aren’t the kind of place where you’ll find someone sitting behind the counter reading a magazine; we move and we are paid high for it. We need a system that will help free up our hands for actual customers/clients, and we’d love to answer the phone for anything else. It’s getting crazy busy - we hit our first million-dollar year this year, and for the type of store we are, that’s huge. Aside from hiring new people (which we are doing), we are trying to find solutions to free up our floor time. The calls we do take should be for people who want us to check their accounts, have a concern of some sort, checking a price, etc. We don’t want to make it harder for them, and hopefully, there is a solution that would make it easier for ALL of us. I’m thinking maybe I should look into the Touch-ToneTM key input mentioned by **Typo Knig ** above, as it may be the simplest solution at this point. I don’t know yet. I’ve still got a lot of research to do. However, I figured the Dope was as good a place as any to start. :wink:

Thanks, and keep any suggestions/comments/complaints about customer service you may have coming!