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An interactive voice response (IVR) system picks up phone calls for you, asks questions for you, and answers those questions for you. It's your virtual receptionist, secretary, operator, and customer service representative. If you need to automate a business process over the phone, an IVR system is the answer.
An IVR saves time, reserving your best call reps for the toughest questions.
An IVR never sleeps, answering calls 24 hours a day every day of the year.
An IVR saves money, automating your repetitive business processes.
Organizations use interactive voice response to automate nearly their most frequent calls. IVR systems can take the place of receptionists, customer-service representatives and even entire call centers.
Interactive voice response applications interact with callers using speech recognition and/or DTMF inputs (keypad entries) coupled with recorded voice messages and/or speech synthesis.
Callers can navigate through menus using either their keypad or voice commands to carry on conversations with IVR systems, which execute callers’ demands and provide callers with the information they need.
Applications can be deployed via premise-based equipment or through a cloud-based service like Plum's hosted IVR platform. Both of these options offer benefits.
Premise-based equipment is preferable when integration with existing contact center, agent and telephony systems are needed, although it also requires the customer to maintain the system and have a working knowledge of telecommunications and operational management.
Hosted IVR provide the customer with a hands-free approach, where their system resides vendor data centers (i.e., in the cloud) and the responsibility for maintenance and management of telecommunications and the system falls on the vendor.
Speech recognition comes into play in two distinct ways. One is through predefined grammars (directed dialogues that prompt the caller with questions and options from a predetermined script, usually recorded by voice talent). The other is through language models (dialogues with open questions and a more conversational, natural interaction).
Text-to-speech technology plays a big part in interactive voice response systems, especially in free-form dialogues. They enable the systems to construct responses specific to the topic at hand by splicing together (and smoothing out) words and phrases from speech fragments.
Recent developments in speech-recognition technology have greatly improved the quality of conversations with IVR systems. The systems are now natural and pleasant, in direct contrast to the robotic voices long associated with them.
The first speech synthesis technology emerged from Bell Labs in 1936, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the technology saw significant service, for the most part in call centers.
In the 1980s, the technology started to take off, as new developers came onto the scene and the potential for the technology as more than just a virtual receptionist became apparent.
In the late 1990s, computer telephony integration greatly expanded that potential and, coupled with dramatic increases in computer processing power in the 2000s, led to much improved speech-recognition performance (revolutionizing the industry).
Today, interactive voice response is the standard for all organizations that receive high call volumes as part of their business, such as companies with call centers. While contemporary IVR systems can still serve as virtual receptionists, they’re now so much more.
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