The Cloud; Silver Lining Optional

Ive just read a blog on choosing a Cloud IVR system which, to me, sounds like advice from the 1980s.

Back before VXML and web applications, IVRs were siloed technology, self-contained, often inflexible and always proprietary.

I thought we’d moved on!

Moved on from there to open standards, flexible solutions, that are integrated with other systems and specialising in customer interaction, rather than an end-to-end business silo. Well  not in the Cloud world, if this blog is anything to go by.

I don’t want to go through all the author’s 10 key questions, but some are frankly weird in the 21st century.


“Is this an open standards system?”

What else would it be? Does it use SIP, Web Services, HTTP/S? The question of whether applications are developed in VXML is only a small part of being open standards based.


“What ASR technology does it use?”

To be frank, other providers of ASR are not generally available – there’s one big player – but even if you pick an ASR vendor that doesn’t begin with N the issues mentioned of unusual voices and accents should not be a major issue. EVERYBODY has an accent – it’s just a question of whether that accent was covered by the training data for the ASR.


“What is the authentication process like?”

Any IVR should be designed for your business needs, and the needs of your callers. Authentication processes, callflows and transfer destinations don’t come out of the box – or if they do, they weren’t designed for you. Gone are the days when you could expect every caller to know their account number, or to choose between sales, billing and nothing else. Customers expect a good IVR to help them reach their goal, whether that’s self-service or speaking to an agent. If Cloud offerings are one-size-fits-all, your IVR will be as unpopular as the ’80s and ’90s systems which created the term “IVR hell”.


“How well does the system follow up on calls?”

This isn’t the job of an IVR. A modern IVR is no longer a CRM system, scheduler, dialer and business rule engine rolled into one. These functions belong to different components of a modern web-based architecture. If Cloud providers are recreating the IVR silo, they will suffer the same fate. Call-backs, customer records, and complaint handling are all specialist functions which deserve their own processes and technology. Don’t tag them onto the IVR and expect a good result.


“Can I try it out?”

No of course you can’t try it out! It hasn’t been designed to meet your needs yet. If you want to try out someone else’s IVR, that’s fine. If you want to see what comes out of the box, and then discuss how it needs to be adapted to fit your requirements, that’s also fine. But don’t expect any decent IVR provider to already have the perfect solution for you, unless all you really want is an answer phone. Today’s IVR systems are as personally tailored as a website. Would you go to a web designer and say “Can I try it?” – No.

I know there are off-the-shelf IVRs from respectable providers, but they need to be configured, customized, coloured in to match your brand. And even then, they will require regular change to keep up with changing customer behaviour or business needs. In some cases you can do a lot of this yourself – but just as you wouldn’t redecorate your front office or redesign your corporate logo without expert advice, you should think twice before taking a DIY approach to your customer contact portal.

Cloud IVR is a real option for many businesses, and I am sure there are expert providers who will do an excellent job of tailoring the best solution for your business. Anyone who tells you you can buy IVR off the peg is not providing what your business and your customers need – and we all know the customer is king in these days of social media and internet searches.


Finding a Provider

If you can’t find a provider who will deliver a customized and flexible IVR from the Cloud, or if you want to be sure that a shiny new Cloud solution will be as good as your existing IVR – honed over many years to meet your needs – don’t despair. I may know some people who can help. But you will need to ask better questions than the ones above

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