In telephony, interactive voice response, or IVR, is a computerized system that allows a person, typically a telephone caller, to select an option from a voice menu and otherwise interface with a computer system. Generally the system plays pre-recorded voice prompts to which the person presses a number on a telephone keypad to select the option chosen, or speaks simple answers such as yes, no, or numbers in answer to the voice prompts.
The latest systems use natural language speech recognition to interpret the questions that the person wants answered. The newest trend is Guided Speech IVR which integrates live human agents into the design and workflow of the application to help the speech recognition with human context.
Other innovations include the ability to speak complex and dynamic information such as an e-mail, news report or weather information using Text-To-Speech (TTS). TTS is computer generated synthesised speech and is no longer the robotic voice people associate with computers. Real voices are used to create the speech in tiny fragments that are glued together before being played to the caller.
IVR systems are used to create and manage services such as telephone banking, order placement, caller identification and routing, balance inquiry, and airline ticket booking. Voicemail systems are different from IVR systems in that they are a one-way communication tool (the caller leaves a message), whereas IVR systems attempt two-way interaction with the caller. Automatic call distributor (ACD) systems are often the first point of contact when calling many larger businesses, and can be used in place of more expensive IVR systems. IVR systems are generally used at the front end of call centers to identify which service the caller wants and to extract numeric information such as account numbers and to provide answers to simple questions such as account balances or pre-recorded information.
IVR systems are often criticised as being unhelpful and difficult to use due to poor design and lack of appreciation of the callers needs. A properly designed IVR system should connect callers to their desired service promptly and with a minimum of complexity.
IVR call flows are created in a variety of ways: while older systems depended upon proprietary programming or scripting languages, modern systems are structured similar to WWW pages, using the VoiceXML or SALT languages. This allows a Web server to act as an application server, freeing the developer to focus on the call flow. Developers then also no longer require specialized programming skills, as Web developers already have the tools needed to create an IVR call flow.
IVR as a technology can be utilized in several different ways:
- Equipment installed and setup on the customer premise
- As an Outsourced Solution Provider (OSP)