Alpha-Numeric Quandary for IVR Main Image

One of the best features of the telephone is its simplicity. You have ten digits to work with (plus the star and pound keys) and pretty much anyone over the age of four can make sense of basic phone concepts.

While those ten digits make phone interactions simple, they also make it difficult to enter letter-based data. Sure, most of us—except, maybe, the native digital generation—remember texting before smart phones where you had to press each number to cycle through the letters associated with it. Let’s just say it wasn’t an efficient means of communication.

But this alpha-numeric quandary has plagued companies for years. It’s one area where IVR has had difficulty replicating a visual medium, like a website, over the phone.

Fortunately, all of this is changing. Combining your IVR with SMS messaging allows you to get the best of both worlds: the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of IVR and the ability to accept alpha-numeric input with SMS.

Use Case

Let’s say that you’re processing payments over the phone. When a customer calls, they enter their customer ID to bring up their account and proceed to complete their payment transaction. Assuming the account ID is all numbers, this is a pretty basic transaction.

However, you want to make sure that your customers get a payment confirmation. You can send a digital one via email, but you must capture their email address first. Not only do many email addresses contain letter and numbers, but they also include periods and ampersands, characters that make entering that information over the phone difficult.

At this point, when you’re ready to collect their email address your IVR triggers a text message that is sent to their mobile device. The text message prompts them to enter the email address where they want the confirmation sent. Callers simply respond to the text message, providing the desired address.

Of course, payment confirmations are only one potential use for this technology. You might also find it useful for remarketing efforts, or to sign-up for newsletters or account notifications.


You have a couple of options when it comes to executing this type of process. Customers don’t need to be on the phone when entering this information. If you disconnect the call after users make their selection you can save valuable minutes on your IVR costs. The cost per text message is even less than the IVR cost per minute.

You can also let customers respond while they’re still on a call. This option would cost a bit more, but it would also give callers the opportunity to return to the main menu and perform other tasks on the same call.

Another nice thing about this method is that it ensures better data accuracy because callers can use the full keyboard available on their device and they can respond at their own speed.

When you creatively integrate your IVR with your CRM you can use this process to decrease call time on future calls as well. When customers respond to the text message you can save that preference in your CRM. The next time that customer calls to pay a bill your IVR can simply ask if they want to send their confirmation to the address on file. Plum’s IVR technology provides the tools and APIs you need to accomplish these tasks.

Ultimately, the result of combining IVR and SMS is faster, more accurate, more efficient, and more cost-effective customer service. By making the payments process painless you can deliver a great customer experience that keeps customers coming back.

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Jason Myers stitches together letters and words into cogent thoughts as the Copywriter at Plum Voice.

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