Intelligent Voice Response

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Intelligent Voice Response (IVR) is a term that is used to describe several computer-to-human interface technologies. All share the characteristic that an input to the computer system generates an auditory response, either from synthesized or recorded speech.

Most often, the term is used when the user communicates with the computer via a telephone connection. The user input can be either in the form of numbers from a dual tone multifrequency telephone keypad, or, if the IVR system has speech recognition capability, from the user speaking directly to the computer.

User interface design

IVR can be quite efficient and user-friendly when both the application lends itself to a simple set of commands, and the logic of accepting and responding to those commands have been carefully thought out by the interface designer. The best candidates for IVR applications tend to be those for which the inputs are either numeric, or a very limited number of choices that can be represented by numbers.

Good candidates for IVR include, assuming appropriates security, basic financial transactions, such as obtaining an account balance from a financial institution, or ordering using part numbers. In an order entry application, the user should have the opportunity to verify that the number entered is correct. For example, in a reasonably effective system for requesting refills of a prescription, the IVR system asks for the prescription number, and then responds with the first several letters of the name of the patient, and asks for confirmation.

It is wise always to have a mechanism by which the user can request to speak with a human operator when the range of choices simply does not cover the request. Having the option to request human intervention is especially useful when the input technique is speech recognition, and, for reasons as simple as the user having a cold, cannot be understood by the speech recognition system.

Some applications are far too critical or complex for IVR, and organizations that try to save money by inappropriate use of IVR are to be condemned. There is a very blurry line between actual applications and comedy routines, as exemplified by a hypothetical emergency response application:

  • Welcome to 911. Press one to report a murder. *beep* Press one if you are being murdered. Press two if you are murdering someone. Press three if you are observing a murder between two other citizens.
  • beep
  • Press one if you are being shot. Press two if you are being stabbed…"

IVR can save the costs of customer service personnel. If abused, it can cause the loss of utterly frustrated customers. Just as many companies have had second thoughts about putting call centers in countries whose native language, or dialect, is not the same as that of its customers