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From IVRs to Automated Interactive Customer Contacts
Chat, SMS, and virtual agent solutions have a strong future if deployed wisely.
For the rest of the April 2014 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Customer self-service solutions have evolved from basic interactive voice response (IVR) to include automated chat, SMS/text, and virtual agents as part of a new breed of solutions that analyst firm Frost & Sullivan calls automated interactive customer contact (AICC) solutions in a new report.

"The shift...began when both companies and vendors began to realize that customers are becoming channel-agnostic for service, that they are less likely to pick up the phone when they need to interact with a company," says Brendan Read, an information and communications technology industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan and author of the report.

Vendors and contact center operators alike are turning to AICC solutions to appeal to Millennials and Gen-Yers, who Read says are more used to working with automated and text-based applications. The move is also appealing to older generations that are demonstrating less patience for IVR systems, he adds.

Recent Frost & Sullivan research shows that IVR ranked last of the contact center channels in customer satisfaction. "As customers prefer to use other channels, like chat, mobile apps, and SMS/text, [companies] are beginning to deploy text-based AICC," Read says. "It stands to reason that as more people use text-based channels, the less likely they will call and use the IVR."

But don't look for the IVR to disappear just yet. Read points out that companies are using AICC systems to supplement IVR and enhancing them to minimize zero-outs.

In fact, vendors of IVR technology have been improving application dialogues and menus and are adding personalization that remembers customers' previous interactions and predictive analytics that can determine customer intent. They are also addressing IVR performance issues and tuning applications to consumer behavior by adapting answer speeds, menus, and scripting.

AICC solutions are popular principally because such applications lower costs by shrinking the volume and duration of interactions handled by live agents, according to Read. He notes that companies are also automating greater percentages of live agent calls to reduce agent head count and avoid adding agents and supporting facilities and technology investments as their businesses grow.

AICC applications also enhance the customer experience by reducing agent queues. And by both supplying vital information to customers and allowing them to conduct transactions if agents are not available, AICC applications provide business continuity/disaster recovery, Read adds.

As with most contact center technologies, the current economic climate is driving AICC deployments to the cloud, allowing companies to further cut costs, adjust solution capacity to match contact volume, and enable rapid application ramp-up as needs change. Read points to recent moves by several traditional IVR vendors to acquire hosted AICC vendors. Examples include Aspect acquiring Voxeo, Avaya purchasing Conversive, and Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories buying Angel, SoundBite, and Echopass.

But for all their promise, AICC solutions will only demonstrate returns on investment if consumers can easily interact with companies through these applications. The key question facing companies is not whether to deploy AICC solutions, but how best to implement them, Read states.

"The key for all AICC systems is that they are tightly integrated [like mobile, social, and voice apps] with customers' conversations and information accessible on all channels, so that one channel picks up where the other has left off," Read suggests.


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