10 Surprising Things You Can (and Can’t Do) With Outbound IVR

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Outbound Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems can send out reminders about appointments and prescription refills, deliver marketing messages, and confirm deliveries and shipments. But when you add Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to the mix, you can improve call center efficiency, enhance customer engagement, nurture leads, and more.

AI-powered outbound IVR systems use voice recognition, natural language processing (NLP), and predictive analytics to customize and personalize content in an automated call. And while these systems are not a replacement for call center agents, they can supplement and streamline call center efforts in some very surprising ways.

How Outbound IVR Works (In Detail)

Outbound IVR automates the outgoing call process in a call center. Rather than an agent manually dialing numbers and speaking to people to accomplish routine tasks, an outbound IVR system can initiate the call and deliver pre-recorded messages or prompts for the recipient to listen or respond to. Depending on the type of call center, outbound IVR may be used a little, a lot, or not at all.

Many times, the automated call fully substitutes for a live agent, especially for things like appointment reminders, prescription refill notices, service alerts, and delivery notifications. The call recipient answers, listens to the automated message, and hangs up after getting the information they need. There’s no need to speak to an agent, saving time on both sides.

In other situations, outbound IVR might be used to conduct surveys and solicit feedback from customers. It can also be used to deliver marketing and promotion messages to customers and prospects or notify registered attendees of an event change. The entire process can be automated, freeing up call center agent time for other, more high-value tasks. It also gives the call recipient a more streamlined experience.

5 Surprising Things You Can Do With Outbound IVR

When Artificial Intelligence (AI) burst onto the scene, the capabilities of outbound IVR systems became more sophisticated. Today, IVR systems that include AI technology are more powerful than ever. Sure these IVR systems can still be used to notify Aunt Barbara her prescription is ready, but armed with AI, these systems can also do more complex things, too.

Natural language interactions

AI uses natural language processing (NLP) to understand and recognize natural speech patterns. This means that customers interacting with these systems aren’t locked into the old-fashioned “press 1 for customer service” navigation on an automated call.

Instead, the customer can use conversational language to respond to prompts. The IVR system will understand and know how to process the call.

Benefits

  • Gives call recipients a more natural and satisfying experience
  • Allows for better call routing, since the customer can make specific requests rather than relying on generic options
  • Assigns the most appropriate agent to each call, streamlining call center operations

Enhanced fraud protection

Outbound IVR systems paired with AI can help detect fraud. The AI algorithms are trained to recognize anomalies in speech patterns and customer behavior that suggest fraudulent intent. Algorithms can analyze millions of patterns in a split second and alert call center teams in real-time, helping to cut down on fraudulent activities.

Benefits

  • Reduces costs related to fraudulent activities
  • Helps control inventory loss
  • Allows a call center to be proactive rather than reactive in managing fraud

Personalized messaging

AI algorithms create detailed customer profiles by analyzing millions of customer data points and behavior collected from sources like shopping history and online search habits. Using these profiles, outbound IVR systems can deliver targeted messaging to call recipients. Each call provides personalized recommendations that specifically address a recipient’s preferences and behavior.

Benefits

  • Enhances the customer experience by providing a customized approach
  • Boosts sales conversions by delivering precise recommendations
  • Allows marketing campaigns to target the correct demographic

Sentiment analysis

AI tools can identify how a customer is feeling based on the person’s tone of voice. This is known as sentiment analysis, and it’s a helpful tool in a call center. Outbound IVR systems can incorporate this functionality so that automated call prompts can be adapted based on the call recipient’s perceived mood. This is deciphered based on their words, attitudes, and emotions present in their verbal responses to automated prompts.

Benefits

  • Improves the call recipient’s experience
  • Allows the system to route calls to agents best able to manage that type of caller
  • Helps call centers proactively resolve customer issues in real-time

Interactive virtual assistants

Chatbots and voicebots are everywhere these days—and for good reason. These AI-powered virtual assistants can interact with callers and website visitors to provide instant responses and resolve routine tasks without call center agent interaction. This streamlines your call center operations, since live agents are free to work on other, more valuable tasks.

Benefits

  • Ensures 24/7 availability of support to handle routine tasks
  • Provides instant responses which boosts user satisfaction
  • Improves efficiency as a chatbot can manage multiple conversations simultaneously

5 Things You Can’t Do With Outbound IVR…Yet

As amazing as AI is, it isn’t quite at the level of replacing human call center agents quite yet—and won’t be for quite some time. Here are a few ways AI-powered outbound IVR systems fall short.

Understand context

AI can figure out what a call recipient means at a high-level, and that might be ok for some of your outbound calls. But when things get more complex or if the conversation spans multiple calls, even the best AI tool is going to stumble. For scenarios where a topic requires multiple calls or several attempts to resolve, it’s better to have a human talking to the customer or prospect.

Manage complex transactions

Outbound IVR systems that use AI are great at solving repetitive tasks that involve low degrees of complexity. But when an issue arises that involves higher levels of thought processing, AI is going to fail. In scenarios where the issues are complicated or require detailed problem-solving, involving a live agent is necessary.

Handle sensitive situations

When a call requires empathy and understanding, you don’t want today’s AI technology trying to manage it. Humans bring the soft skills required to ensure the person on the other end of the line feels heard and understood. If the call recipient doesn’t feel good about the interaction, not only will satisfaction plummet, but also the company’s reputation can be permanently damaged.

Address in-depth product queries

If you’re using outbound IVR with AI for sales, it’s important to understand your sales cycle. If you’re selling something simple that requires no explanation, then automated interactions might be fine. But if your product or service relies on a highly consultative sales model, it’s better to use real people with in-depth product knowledge and the ability to pivot to successfully address prospect questions.

Build rapport and relationships

Despite what Hollywood movie studios would like you to think, AI-powered technology is not quite on par with humans when it comes to developing connections and building relationships with customers and prospects. AI simply can’t replicate the human touch. The empathy required to start and maintain personal relationships can only be provided by live agents on the other end of the call.

Outbound IVR Best Practices

When you launch outbound IVR as part of your call center operations, be sure to follow these best practices. In some cases, these tips will help you stay true to your bottom line. In others, it will keep you from running afoul of federal law in the United States and abroad.

Respect caller privacy

There are many laws and regulations in place in the United States and European Union to protect consumer privacy.

In the United States, there’s the federal Do Not Call Registry. Consumers can add their telephone number to a list to prevent receiving telemarketing calls, whether automated or live. There’s also the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that requires telemarketers to obtain consent before placing any calls to a consumer.

In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) restricts how and when telemarketers can contact consumers. These stringent rules apply to all 27 member EU states and Ireland, Lichtenstein, and Norway.

Disobeying any of these regulations can mean serious trouble for a business, including big fines. Be sure your outbound IVR system follows all laws and regulations.

Monitor call analytics

You’ll want to know how outbound IVR is improving call center performance. The best way to do it is to track call center analytics. You can use this data to make informed decisions that will help boost these scores, like refining outbound scripts and enhancing call quality.

The data from your analytics will help you identify trends over time and give you the insights you need to make targeted changes rather than taking a hit-or-miss approach to process improvement.

Optimize your messaging

Once your outbound IVR system is up and running, it’s time to tweak things to optimize results. You can use call center KPIs to identify areas for improvement, then make necessary changes. This is also where you can start adding AI technology to help.

Personalization is a big way to improve the call experience. AI tools that build customer profiles let you send hyper-targeted messaging to customers and prospects based on their own past online behavior and buying patterns.

Optimizing call quality is also important. Don’t be tempted to save a few bucks by asking a call center agent to record these messages, unless they happen to have exceptional voice recording skills. Spend the money to invest in professional audio recordings.

Integrate across channels

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking outgoing phone calls are the only way to implement outbound IVR in your call center. There are other ways your customers and prospects want to engage, including email, SMS, and even social media messaging systems.

Take a holistic view of the customer experience and integrate your IVR into all methods of public-facing communications that make sense for your business.

Focus on continuous improvement

Getting your IVR system up and running is just the start. Even the most successful call center using outbound IVR has room for improvement.

Keep studying KPI data and use your outbound IVR system to regularly solicit feedback from customers. Data from both will help you understand where you can make changes to enhance the customer experience and overall results. As your business evolves, so should your outbound IVR system.

How to Start Using Outbound IVR in Your Call Center Today

The idea of adding outbound IVR to your call center may feel like a daunting proposition. It doesn’t have to be. The easiest way to do it is to implement a total VoIP call center solution that offers outbound IVR features.

If you’re not familiar with VoIP, it’s a calling solution that puts all your call services in the cloud, meaning you don’t have to worry about maintaining the hardware or software onsite. Your calls are transmitted over the internet, so you can skip cumbersome landlines, too. VoIP is less expensive than a traditional phone system and offers far more flexibility. As your call center needs expand, VoIP systems effortlessly scale with it.

One of our favorite VoIP providers, especially for call centers planning to use outbound IVR, is Nextiva. The system is incredibly easy to set up. In fact, you can get your phone system up and running in just a few hours following four simple steps. There’s also live support to help you along the way if you run into issues or have questions.

Nextiva’s Contact Center Solution offers two different IVR options: Basic IVR and Advanced IVR. The latter incorporates “conversational” AI technology that relies on natural language processing (NLP) to enhance the customer experience and route calls more efficiently. Nextiva also includes AI-powered voice and chatbots and multichannel integrations.

Once you have outbound IVR set up for your call center, you want to track performance. Here are some of the most important KPIs you should measure to see how the outbound IVR is performing.

  • Call completion rate: When this number is high, you know your system is connecting with receptive callers and successfully delivering your intended message.
  • Response rate: This indicates how many call recipients are responding to your automated prompts. The higher this number, the better the engagement.
  • Average call duration: You want this number to be proportionate to the duration of the messaging. If this number is low, it could be that call recipients are not interested and that your scripts need work to become more engaging.
  • Abandonment rate: When this number is high, it’s a sign your messaging is not resonating with call recipients. Tweak your scripts for clarity, length, and content to reduce this rate.
  • Conversion rate: If you’re using your outbound IVR for sales or lead generation, you want this number to be high. A low conversion rate suggests call recipients don’t find your messaging engaging or compelling enough to do what you want them to do.

By studying these important KPIs regularly, you’ll get a good idea where your outbound IVR system is doing well and where you can make adjustments to boost performance.

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