Interactive Voice Response systems are a crucial part of day to day operations for so many businesses. If we were a little bit larger I would invest in a VOIP system and load it with IVR recordings so that I could answer the questions of my callers with an automated FAQ system in place. Until that day, I’ll be picking up the phone when it rings. Below I will feature some of the more technical information as it relates to IVR systems then I will follow that up with some feedback from my own experience producing thousands of hours of IVR recordings in the studio.
The IVR Studio Process:
After an IVR project rolls into the studio it takes a few of us to get organized. The last IVR recording project we had come through here was a monster project for a bank. There were 16,000 audio prompts not including revisions and last minute changes. We spent about a week in studio just recording the prompts. A voice talent can only read for so many consecutive hours before his/her voice starts to give and the eyes start burning. The audio engineer/producer looses a tremendous amount of focus after about 10 hours of recording. Trust me, it get’s exhausting.
After the week of recording is finished, the voice talent get’s to go home and get back to life. We on the other hand begin the arduous process of editing all the mistakes, removing clicks and pops, breath, an sibilance. After all those edits and the cleaning is done it’s time to label the audio files…. yes, 16,000 audio files. Now, if the bank had used a company that had experience with the production side of things they would have created a labeling sequence that was sequential. This would allow you to automate the labeling of the audio files. Well, as our luck would have it the IVR system directory and the general nav functions were made up of random characters generated when creating a labeling scheme. That meant that those files were manually labeled… yes, manually. Our process now consists of a pre-production meeting with the client and with the architects behind the design of the IVR routing matrix.
After the labeling process has been completed, those files get batch converted to the audio format that system requires. Typically it’s a very lo-fi format that’s very small in file size and extremely easy for the servers to load and play back to the caller. Not a big deal since standard pots lines didn’t broadcast anything greater then 8bits / 8khz over the phone line. After the files have been converted, we .zip them up and post them to a server for client retrieval.
It usually takes a week or two for the files to be loaded, system checks, Q&A, and rewrites. After all that is done we will typically hear from the IVR engineers if there is a technical issue with the formatting or if any of the .zip files were corrupted during the file transfer protocol (FTP). We then get the voice talent back into studio and fulfill the requests/needs of the client. Most of our contracts include 1 round of client generated revisions. Anything after that, that’s a script change or rewrite is an additional charge.
So that sums up the process for the most part. Below is IVR tech talk as taken from the Wiki page. You can link to that wiki page by clicking on that wiki link below.
Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF tones input via keypad. In telecommunications, IVR allows customers to interact with a company’s host system via a telephone keypad or by speech recognition, after which they can service their own inquiries by following the IVR dialogue. IVR systems can respond with prerecorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR applications can be used to control almost any function where the interface can be broken down into a series of simple interactions. IVR systems deployed in the network are sized to handle large call volumes.
It is common in industries that have recently entered the telecommunications industry to refer to an automated attendant as an IVR. The terms, however, are distinct and mean different things to traditional telecommunications professionals—the purpose of an IVR is to take input, process it, and return a result, whereas the job of an Automated Attendant is to route calls. Emerging telephony and VoIP professionals often use the term IVR as a catch-all to signify any kind of telephony menu, even a basic automated attendant. The term voice response unit (VRU), is sometimes used as well.
Typical IVR Applications:
IVR systems are typically intended to service high call volumes, reduce cost and improve the customer experience. Examples of typical IVR applications are telephone banking, televoting, and credit card services. Companies also use IVR services to extend their business hours to 24/7 operation. The use of IVR and voice automation allows callers’ queries to be resolved without the need for queueing and incurring the cost of a live agent. If callers do not find the information they need or require further assistance, their calls are often transferred to an agent. This makes for a more efficient system in which agents have more time to deal with complex interactions. The agents do not deal with basic inquiries that require yes/no responses or obtaining customer details.
Call centers use IVR systems to identify and segment callers. The ability to identify customers allows services to be tailored according to the customer profile. The caller can be given the option to wait in the queue, choose an automated service, or request a callback. The system may obtain caller line identification (CLI) data from the network to help identify or authenticate the caller. Additional caller authentication data could include account number, personal information, password and biometrics (such as voice print).
When an IVR system answers multiple phone numbers the use of DNIS ensures that the correct application and language is executed. A single large IVR system can handle calls for thousands of applications, each with its own phone numbers and script.
IVR also enables customer prioritization. In a system wherein individual customers may have a different status the service will automatically prioritize the individual’s call and move customers to the front of a specific queue. Prioritization could also be based on the DNIS and call reason.
Smaller companies and start-ups can also use an IVR system to make their business appear larger than it is. For example, a caller never needs to know that their sales and support calls are routed to the same person.
In addition to interacting with customer information systems and databases, IVRs will also log call detail information into its own database for auditing, performance report, and future IVR system enhancements.
CTI allows a contact center or organization to gather information about the caller as a means of directing the inquiry to the appropriate agent. CTI can transfer relevant information about the individual customer and the IVR dialog from the IVR to the agent desktop using a screen-pop, making for a more effective and efficient service.
IVR may be used by survey organizations to ask more sensitive questions where the investigators are concerned that a respondent might feel less comfortable providing these answers to a human interlocutor (such as questions about drug use or sexual behavior). In some cases an IVR system can be used in the same survey in conjunction with a human interviewer. For example, during the survey the interviewer might inform the respondent that for the next series of questions they will be sent to an IVR system to continue or complete the interview.
Voice-activated dialing (VAD) IVR systems are used to automate routine enquiries to switchboard or PABX (Private Automatic Branch eXchange) operators, and are used in many hospitals and large businesses to reduce the caller waiting time. An additional function is the ability to allow external callers to page staff and transfer the inbound call to the paged person.
Entertainment and information
Some of the largest installed IVR platforms are used for televoting on television game shows, such as Pop Idol and Big Brother, which can generate enormous call spikes. Often, the network provider will have to deploy call gapping in the PSTN to prevent network overload.
IVR systems allow callers to obtain data relatively anonymously. Hospitals and clinics have used IVR systems to allow callers to receive anonymous access to test results. This is information that could easily be handled by a person but the IVR system is used to preserve privacy and avoid potential embarrassment of sensitive information or test results. Users are given a passcode to access their results.
IVR systems are used by pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations to conduct clinical trials and manage the large volumes of data generated. The caller will respond to questions in their preferred language and their responses will be logged into a database and possibly recorded at the same time to confirm authenticity. Applications include patient randomization and drug supply management. They are also used in recording patient diaries and questionnaires.
IVR systems can be used for outbound calls, as IVR systems are more intelligent than many predictive dialer systems, and can use call progress detection to recognize different line conditions as follows:
Answer (the IVR can tell the customer who is calling and ask them to wait for an agent)
Answered by voice mail or answering machine (in these circumstances the IVR system can leave a message)
Fax tone (the IVR can leave a TIFF image fax message)
Divert messages (the IVR will abandon the call)
Other common IVR services include:
Mobile — pay-as-you-go account funding; registration; mobile purchases, such as ring tones and logos
Banking — balance, payments, transfers, transaction history
Retail & entertainment — orders, bookings, credit & debit card payments
Utilities — meter readings; account look-up, history and balance, payment, consumption history
Travel — ticket booking, flight information, check-in
Weather forecasts, water, road and ice conditions.