What Is Interactive Voice Response (IVR)?

This blog will discuss a telecommunication technology that most of you are familiar with (and probably hate.) You might call them automated phone systems, but the real name of the technology is IVR, or Interactive Voice Response. We will briefly touch upon the history of IVR, its uses, and its uses. We’ll also discuss a little bit about how they are related to, and helped lead to, the chatbot technology we have today.

Telecommunication is a rich field that has brought people together from vast distances since its advent. Communication and interaction over vast distances was an enormous problem for many cultures interested in global relations.

This interest in communicating with foreign nations over vast distances drove humanity to develop various methods to overcome distance constraints. These various methods include everything from homing pigeons to telephone lines.

What Is an Interactive Voice Response System?

To put briefly, Interactive Voice Response refers to the technology that allows users to interact with a computer-generated phone system via the use of voice and Dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) by using a keyboard.

Interactive Voice Response system acts as an automated telephony system that can interact with customers, gather information from them, and route calls to the desired customers. After accepting a combination of voice telephone input and touch-tone keypad selection, the Interactive Voice Response system responds with voice, fax, callback, email, or other contact forms.

To set up an Interactive Voice Response system requires telephony equipment, some software applications, a database, and support infrastructure. By purchasing the necessary infrastructure and software, an organization can set up an Interactive Voice Response System.

The History of Interactive Voice Response Systems

Created in the early 1970s, we can’t exactly consider these automated phone systems chatbots, but there were attempts to automate conversations and remove human workers from a task. The system doesn’t have any intelligence behind them.

However, we can classify them as Rules-Based or what some call “Button Bots.” If you want to chat with one, call any large company, and odds are you’ll get an automated or IVR system. In the early 1970s, when the technology prevailed and developed, call centers considered it too complex to automate tasks.

A phone operator redirecting calls in the days before Interactive Voice Response Systems.

The First Commercial Use of IVRs

The first commercial use of IVRs was an application for an order inventory control system. Steven Schmidt designed and developed this commercial application in 1973. The first IVRS were DSP technology-based and only included simple vocabularies.

In the 1980s, Leon Ferber’s perception technology made its breakthroughs in mainstream market competitions and was the first to do so. The inspiration behind this technology was to validate the cost-effectiveness of hard drive technology.

During those times, systems stored digitized speech on disk played relevant voice responses, and processed customer’s DTMF responses. Call centers soon shifted to multimedia in the late 1990s. Companies also directed their investments towards computer telephony integration with Interactive Voice Response systems.

Soon IVR technology became vital for call centers to deploy universal queuing and routing solutions. Interactive Voice Response acted as virtual agents that collected customer data to help deploy intelligent routing decisions.

As technology-enhanced, systems could use speaker-independent voice recognition systems, and the customers didn’t have to use DTMF signals. In the 2000s, due to the increased CPU power and VXML standards, Interactive Voice response systems became popular and easier to deploy.

How an Interactive Voice Response System Works?

As discussed above, an Interactive Voice Response system can store pre-recorded voice responses and provide those responses in the appropriate situations. Interactive Voice Response system provides keypad signal logic, access to customer data, and the ability to pre-record a voice response for later use.

IVR systems use DTMF signals to enable communication between computers and phones. The computer uses a telephony board or a card to interpret these DTMF signals. Using Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), IVR systems can handover calls to users that can view customer data on their screen.

Using an Interactive Voice Response System, an organization can use pre-recorded greetings or menu options that a user accesses through his phone’s keypad. Advanced IVR systems also include speech recognition software that enables communication between customers and computers.

Modern IVR systems also use a programming language, Voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML). This voice programming language includes several components, a vast telephone network, a web server, a VoiceXML telephony server, a TCP/IP network, and databases that work in conjunction to provide top-notch customer services.

A simplified diagram of how an IVR system works.

The Many Uses Of Interactive Voice Response Systems

The uses of Interactive Voice Response Systems are many. Interactive Voice Response Systems are used to service high call volumes at a lower cost. An interactive voice response system’s most common use is to automate and route inbound and outbound calls.

Using Interactive Voice Response systems eliminates the need for a switchboard operator to answer incoming calls from customers. This then leads to an instance where the caller has presented a menu of options to select from and an attempt to answer commonly asked questions.

Companies frequently use this technology to automate tasks. For instance, consider when you call a movie theatre to ask them about the movie times. The Interactive Voice Response System responds with the latest available movie times.

Some More Examples of IVR System Uses:

1. In Banking

Banking systems frequently use Interactive Voice Response systems to automate tasks, improve customer engagement, and extend their business times 24/7. By using telephone banking, customers can check their balances and transaction histories.

Customers can also make easy payments and transfers through telephone banking. With the advent of online and mobile banking solutions, customers have also shifted towards online banking rather than local banks.

2. In Medicine

The Medical Field is also fond of Interactive Voice Response Technology. Pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations frequently use IVR technology to conduct clinical trials and manage the large heaps of data generated as a result.

In the trial, the caller can respond to standard questions in their preferred language. The responses are then logged into the database simultaneously as the trial confirms the authenticity of the data collected from the trial.

The applications of such trials include patient randomization processes and drug supply management. This technology can also be used to record patient diaries and questionnaires.

When it comes to Interactive Voice Response systems, the caller can collect data quite anonymously. Due to this reason, hospitals and clinics have allowed callers to receive anonymous access to test results.

IVR systems provide safety and security; that’s why handling such data is tasked to IVR systems. IVR system preserves privacy policies and avoids the potential leak of sensitive information and test results.

To access the test results, the clinics give the users a passcode.

3. In Surveys

One of the practical uses of Interactive Voice Response Systems is televoting on popular tv shows, TV game shows, and large platforms. By using IVR systems, they can quickly generate enormous spikes in calls.

The network provider deploys call gapping in the PSTN system to prevent network overload from happening. Survey organizations can also use IVR systems to ask sensitive questions from customers.

This helps the investigators when they are concerned that the subject might feel uncomfortable answering a human investigator when such sensitive questions are being asked.

Many times, IVR systems are also in conjunction with the human investigation in many survey organizations.

The Social Impact of Interactive Voice Response Technologies

IVR systems have had a significant positive impact on culture. Whenever IVR technologies have been deployed in developing countries, the population has increased its technological skills due to exposure to IRV systems and technological literacy.

Here are some instances of the social impact of IRV systems.

In Agriculture

Let’s consider India; there, it is common for farmers to obtain information early. Television and radio systems help a lot to achieve this goal, but farmers require communal support to spread this information and act on it.

IRV technology has helped farmers a lot in rural areas to obtain and spread information. An instance of this is a project known as Avaaj Otalo. Having stemmed from a research project in 2009, this project allowed farmers to receive information by merely dialing a number on their phones.

They could also record questions for NGOs and peers using IRV technology. This project has now developed into a company called Awaz.de. Awaz.de is a social enterprise that works alongside developing organizations and provides them the tools to work with.

In Healthcare

IRV systems also have a positive impact on healthcare systems. Take, for instance, Tuberculosis. TB patients needed to take TB medicine daily for a few months to heal themselves completely.

To tackle this issue, there was a system called DOTS. Even though this method was very effective, the technique necessitated the TB patient to visit the clinic every day, which created inconveniences for the clinic staff and the patient due to time and distance.

A project called 99DOTS that was based on IVR technology solved this issue. Patients received customized packets of tablets that they received from the clinics. Opening the packet provided the TB patient a phone number that the TB patient could dial to inform the clinic about their medicine intake.

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