While consumers are increasingly turning to other channels—such as mobile apps, texting, and Web chat—to reach companies, interactive voice response (IVR) systems remain the workhorses today that they were 15 years ago. In fact, for most companies, inbound call volumes continue to rise, which has prompted continued interest in the very mature IVR technology.
Research firm Technavio has forecasted the global IVR systems market to grow at a rate of 27.4 percent per year through 2019. Growth is being fueled by increasing consumer acceptance of speech technologies, thanks in large part to technological advances in natural language understanding, machine learning, and IVR analytics, as well as the integration of self-service and assisted service.
Challenging this growth, however, is that many companies are still reluctant to spend money on their IVR systems. When it comes to upgrades and improvements, many businesses prioritize newer channels over IVRs. Or, in many cases, IVR plans are integrated into a broader self-service and assisted-service strategy.
On the technology front, some industry analysts foresee a continuing expansion of IVR capabilities as they evolve into more full-featured voice portals. "The differentiating factor in this market will be the application of self-service in other channels. IVR-like automation in other channels is the future of contact center self-service," says Paul Stockford, president and chief analyst at Saddletree Research.
7 already has a strong IVR technology portfolio, evidenced by its score of 3.9 in depth of functionality. But this portfolio, highlighted by the Customer Engagement Platform, will only get richer as the company integrates deep neural networks with IVRs following a deal with Microsoft last summer. The company is also winning over its customers, as demonstrated by its 3.9 in customer satisfaction, which put it in a three-way tie at the top..
Aspect Software rebounded from last year's One to Watch and returned to the coveted leaderboard this year. As it has for years, it led the industry in depth of functionality (4.2), and it also did comparatively well in company direction (3.5). "Their vision of the future puts them solidly in front of the market," Stockford says. Additionally, it "continues to do well incorporating mobile functionality from its acquisition of Voxeo" in 2013, says Sheila McGee-Smith, founder and president of McGee-Smith Analytics.
Cisco Systems, last year's category winner, suffered a setback this year because of its slower-than-average cloud migration. However, it still managed to post a score of 3.8 in depth of functionality. Stockford maintains that Cisco’s IVR products are "highly functional and seamlessly integrated into a comprehensive contact center solution." But McGee-Smith says the company has some catching up to do. "Cisco has a solid solution and is working on a stronger proactive engagement story across channels," she says.
Interactive Intelligence scored an industry-leading 4.0 this year in company direction. Its high marks in customer satisfaction and depth of functionality (both 3.9) make it a strong contender. As with its contact center infrastructure, analysts touted Interactive Intelligence's strong stable of new products and different options, many of them built in house.
West, a newcomer to the leaderboard in 2015, moves up even further to take the top spot this year, bolstered by a score of 4.0 in depth of functionality and 3.9 in customer satisfaction. Its overall performance, analysts say, was made possible by the January 2015 sale of its agent services business to Alorica. Since then, the company has pushed the envelope with its speech recognition systems, which it continues to bolster with natural language capabilities. It's also looking to advance its portfolio further through acquisitions: In the fall, it acquired ClientTell, a provider of automated notifications to the healthcare industry, for $38 million; and Magnetic North, a provider of hosted customer contact center and unified communications solutions, for $39 million. "These highly strategic acquisitions enhance our solutions in growing markets and demonstrate our commitment to investing in leading technologies," said Tom Barker, chairman and CEO of West, in a statement.
ONE TO WATCH
Convergys has been long absent from any kind of leadership position in the IVR market—until now. The company has a strong stable of solutions, developed in house, that it can use as a competitive differentiator, according to Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. The company also posted a top mark in cost (3.6).
[Editor's note: The overall award rating is based on a composite score of analyst ratings for customer satisfaction, depth of functionality, company direction, and cost. For the cost score, analysts gave the highest marks to vendors with the lowest expected costs. Company revenues were also factored into the overall score, but these numbers are not included in the chart above.]