Artificial Intelligence, IVR Customer Service and the Promise of Zero

The merits of AI are clear: AI-backed IVR lead to results-driven customer experience.
Customer Service

Imagine a customer is calling a travel or hospitality industry reservations center outfitted with an interactive voice response, or IVR, application. The call may go one of several ways.

The menu tree might offer seemingly static options misaligned with the caller's needs. His or her next option--possibly even the first--is to zero out to reach a live agent.

For any customer contact center, that option translates to money lost.

Now, imagine an IVR solution outfitted with the latest artificial intelligence, or AI, software. The greeting might begin with "Please tell us in a few words why you're calling today. You can say, book a new reservation, change my reservation, or something else."

Using algorithms behind speech-to-text technology, the solution maps the call, even anticipating new paths based on each response. AI-backed IVR can intuitively predict the expected path, and move the call along to the next logical step. If the caller responds, "No," AI will offer up another set of predictive options.

The caller always has the option to zero out. But the likelihood of doing so-and the contact center incurring additional costs-have dropped dramatically.

Contact center managers, and the customers they serve, often have conflicting agendas. Managers are driven to keep cost-per-engagement down. That translates to shorter call times and quicker call resolution, often by deflecting customers from agents and serving them with options form a well-designed menu tree.

Meanwhile, customers stand at the ready to hit "0" to get to a customer service representative to find resolution. In the search for a happy medium that suits both, customer contact centers are turning to IVR solutions driven by the latest in AI technology. Though new, this isn't the stuff of science fiction. A number of providers today are using AI applications that deliver results for the call center and satisfaction for the customer.

In this truly symbiotic relationship, AI layers higher-level "thinking" atop traditional IVR's call mapping solutions. By capitalizing on the natural speech recognition and applying intelligent applications to improve interpretation, AI-driven IVR can actually predict caller requests and deliver the most suitable service more quickly. This anticipatory application satisfies customers and shortens engagement time.

The number of times a customer needs to dial "0" for a live agent is a matter of conflicting opinions. AI providers say it's less than three in 10 times. Realistically, the figure is probably closer to nine in 10.

What's more, AI's efficacy depends on the complexities of the call or industry. The travel and hospitality example above features far fewer options and less inherent complexity than healthcare or insurance. What's more, effectiveness can be affected by the calling audience at hand. Those industries that serve more educated customers, like business executives, professionals in high-level industries, or even native English speakers, likely will enjoy stronger returns from their AI applications.

AI's time has arrived for some industries, though not for all. As noted above, not all customers or sectors are ready for AI. But every industry should be exploring its merits. If the goal is to deflect callers from agents, then every call deflected from an agent, while still delivering a positive, results-driven customer experience, means AI likely has lowered costs, providing the promise of positive customer satisfaction.

In the future, AI will be a common occurrence and will have become a vital element of any IVR solution. With software, installation, and maintenance costs dropping, and customer contact center managers always seeking a path toward the other "0" - that is, customers never zeroing out to a live agent - AI will be seen as an application that delivers on its promise.