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The 2017 CRM Service Leaders: Interactive Voice Response
For the rest of the April 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here

THE MARKET

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems have been helping businesses serve their customers for decades, making this a very mature market. But while IVR technology has clearly been showing its age—particularly as it struggles to integrate many of the newer digital customer interaction channels—it continues to generate interest. In fact, some vendors have reported double-digit growth for their IVR technology, exceeding even their own expectations.

Part of IVR’s resurgence can be traced to vendors’ efforts to make the technology more conversational, personal, and adaptive, replacing the traditional “Press 1” inputs with more natural language understanding and artificial intelligence. Newer systems are also being built that can reduce input time, lower the number of misroutes and reroutes, and streamline the overall experience. They’re being supplemented with Big Data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to gain a greater understanding of what customers want, provide deeper analysis of interactions, and deliver a wider array of choices. They’ve also become more adept at putting callers’ words into context and recognizing and differentiating permutations in their speech.

Vendors have also been pushing for tighter integrations with mobile and web applications, chat features, and text messaging, and now look to bring a visual element to systems. IVRs today are transitioning from strictly voice applications to ones that can support much more robust interactive multimedia environments.

THE LEADERS

[24]7 is a perennial favorite among analysts, mostly because of the depth of functionality offered in its solutions. The company scored a 3.9 in that area and continues to shine in customer satisfaction and cost as well. After 2015 saw it emerge as the first company to add deep neural networking to its IVR, in 2016 it continued its momentum as the one firm that has “likely done the best job” integrating analytics into its solutions, says Sheila McGee-Smith, founder and president of McGee-Smith Analytics.

As it has done for many years, Aspect Software again led the IVR field in depth of functionality, with a score of 4.1, and customer satisfaction, with a score of 3.7. The company successfully emerged from Chapter 11 last year, and, by many accounts, has come back stronger than ever. According to McGee-Smith, the company “deployed some very innovative solutions in 2016.” Paul Stockford, president and chief analyst at Saddletree Research, agrees. “What Aspect is doing in terms of self-service chatbots is phenomenal,” he says. “They’ve already won the cool factor in my mind, and how they’re pushing the self-service envelope in customer service is nothing short of spectacular.”

Cisco Systems, already a solid performer in the IVR space, this year added some very forward-thinking intelligence to its solutions. Its cloud-based Context Service, now baked into the core Cisco customer care solutions, allows systems and agents to know about previous interactions and enables dynamic IVR treatment based on those interactions. It also added a more robust API for universal queuing and routing of back-office and digital events, and built its vision of a “Connected Digital Experience” into all that it does.

Genesys has traditionally offered a very capable solution, especially for high-end enterprises. Its acquisition of Interactive Intelligence in August now positions it to take a larger share of the midmarket and to advance in the cloud. That move follows its acquisition of SpeechStorm at the close of 2015, in which it gained a strong set of omnichannel capabilities. Pair those deals with some of the strong partnerships forged this past year—including arrangements with DialogTech, Virtual Hold Technologies, Avtex, AudioCodes, and Microsoft—and the company is on the cusp of something amazing, analysts contend.

THE WINNER

Contact Solutions was acquired by Verint Systems in February 2016, giving it the backing of one of the strongest companies in the contact center space. It was already a strong competitor in its own right among a crowded field of IVR vendors, having captured a 4.0 score in depth of functionality and solid numbers in the other categories. Its adaptive IVR, though, is what sets it apart. Stockford calls it “an industry-leading innovation,” noting that “to offer that level of customer knowledge and service in an IVR solution is game-changing.” The company, he adds, “represents the future of telephone-based self-service.” —Leonard Klie

ONE TO WATCH

Avaya continues to offer a solid system and development platform, as demonstrated by its 3.9 score in depth of functionality, but it has been struggling mightily to keep ahead of competitors that have been much quicker at adding productized mobile features and cloud capabilities. Analysts also pulled back a little on Avaya this year pending the outcome of its formal proceedings to restructure its balance sheet. The company in mid-January filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which has some analysts on edge about its future.



[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.]

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