I recently stumbled onto an article called “Is the IVR Dead?” by Rob Marchand at Genesys. My initial response, since a lot of my work involves IVR was, God I hope not!

So I read the article, ever striving to keep myself current in the industry, and I was struck by the realization that I’ve read variations of this article numerous times over the years. Turns out, as usual, the IVR is both dead and not dead. It is thriving. It is evolving, improving, and being supplemented by additional modes.

“Is the IVR Dead?” The title grabs eyeballs precisely because the IVR is a big part of our lives. It is now and it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Marchand writes:

“For a long time, the only way to get in touch with a company was via the telephone. As technology advanced and ‘self-service’ or ‘assisted service’ (where an agent could be involved) became available, the opportunity to deal with at least part of the interaction in an IVR became attractive to businesses for many reasons…. The problem with this role was that it became easy to keep customers away from a contact center. The IVR became a moat protecting costly agent resources….

Now fast forward to the current era. New and exciting channels have emerged. Web, SMS, and mobile provide excellent options for a customer to contact a company. These are exciting times, but we are in danger of rebuilding many of the silos that were torn down when proprietary IVR technology was replaced with standards-based VoiceXML IVR. Worse, the new channels are sometimes used – again – for ‘containment’, rather than being used to help the customer achieve their goal.”

Patrick Nguyen, CTO at Voxify, told CMIQ via podcast, “Conventional IVR is the most common form of IVR today, one with limited conversation skills, static call flows and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to service. Intelligent IVR is a new approach to customer care. It leverages enterprise data and knowledge of previous interactions to recognize callers, anticipate their service request and resolve their issues quickly and efficiently.”

Soooo, IVR is dead only in the sense that it’s being replaced by intelligent IVR. I see. No disrespect to Mr. Nguyen, but what he’s really describing is the vulnerability of bad customer service being replaced by better customer service.

In his podcast, Nguyen makes the necessary point that service is not about technology, but that intelligent call handling requires an underlying strategy and philosophy to achieve success.

Earlier in my career we worried that the IVR would be replaced by the web. We focused on the fact that many grandmas out there in the hinterlands were not yet connected to the web, but just about everybody had a phone. A similar argument is playing out with the newer technologies. Chat, apps, etc.: they’re all great, but they won’t yet be displacing the phone entirely. And furthermore, just as they’re opportunities to provide service, they’re opportunities to provide BAD service. If the customer is your focus, you’ll probably be alright, no matter what technology you use. Tools are tools, toys are toys, gadgets are gadgets, and they all have their place — but excellent customer service requires strategy, effort, commitment and planning. Our own VoiceVision evaluation examines how well organizations are leveraging technology towards critical business goals.

Eventually you’ll be able to teleport the agent to the customer, and vice-versa, and when that capability emerges, you had better allot some resources to deciding how to make that tool part of an excellent customer service experience.

Technology will continue to change, so strategies tied to particular technologies are doomed to be displaced, but strategies tied to improving the customer experience will succeed across multiple platforms.

So till then, long live IVR!