What to Look for

When Researching an IVR

Getting Started

So you have determined that an IVR might help you cut some costs and standardize a few types of calls that come into your contact center, and you need to choose a solution. There is an endless supply of vendors and solutions from which to choose.

This document was created to help guide you through the selection process by outlining the questions to ask internal stakeholders, as well as other questions to ask each vendor you are evaluating.

On the final page of the document there is a printable checklist that will allow you to compare a few vendors side by side. Once you have answered all of the questions leading up to it you should have a good idea of which features you need in an IVR and which vendor meets the requirements.

Section 1: What to discuss internally

The business challenges this solution is intended to address. This is the overarching question that put you on this journey in the first place. Responses may include: high operating costs, employee retention, or poor customer service. If the business challenge cannot be addressed on any level, then it is a deal breaker—why implement anything at all? Keep these challenges in mind throughout the whole process.

Other departments involved in the decision making process. Implementing a new technology, especially one that directly touches the customer, will affect multiple groups within the organization. Each group will have their own set of questions and concerns that will need to be addressed. You will want to be prepared to respond to and handle the objections that arise. When taking on a project of this kind, the benefits may be clear to you and your department but they may not be so evident to others. Sometimes, department heads only see this as additional work that will consume resources. If you know in advance who has to buy in, then you can prepare a strong argument based on data and facts that will help appease each stakeholder. An experienced vendor will be able to help guide you through the objections and benefits, as well

The current state of your voice channel. As of today, what does the voice technology in your contact center look like? The answer could simply be, “What voice technology?”, or you may have an outdated IVR that was implemented purely to route calls. There are many different scenarios and all contact centers are unique with different set-ups and requirements. To embark on this journey without a clear idea of where you are starting can overcomplicate the process. Do you already have specific technology that the supplier will need to integrate with? Would you prefer the supplier to work alongside what is already there or do you want a completely new platform? All these factors need to be taken into account in order to select a vendor that can accommodate your specific requirements.

Existing technologies that require integration. Regardless of where your contact center stands it is almost a guarantee that there will be some integration required. Integration is the key to providing that personalized, seamless experience that you want for customers. Whether it is with CRM, payment gateways, or your ACD vendor, there is bound to be something and you need to be ready to have that conversation. The first reason to discuss this goes back to a previous topic – what other departments will need to be involved in this process? As the implementation begins there should be no surprises about what is going to be involved in making this a successful launch. At this point all groups should be aware of what is required of them. Second, without a list of integration requirements there is no way to select the right vendor. The last thing you want is to start moving forward with the process and learn that your needs can’t be met or that the launch will be delayed.

Section 2: What to discuss with the vendor.

This should be the easy part! By this point you have a definitive list of requirements that will allow you to choose vendors pretty quickly based on their capabilities.

Natural language capabilities. Voice technology has come a long way and it is no longer the days of just directed dialog and menu trees. There are usually four options when choosing a technology: DTMF, directed dialog, partial natural language, and 100% natural language.

  • DTMF: Keypad only. “Press 1 for Billing, press 2 for Orders…”
  • Directed Dialog: Caller can only say specific words because the recognition is script-based. “For Billing, say ‘billing’ or press 1…”
  • Partial Natural Language: Conversational front door which leads into directed dialog for the remainder of the call.
  • 100% Natural Language: Fully conversational allowing caller to speak naturally. It also allows for
    redirection (“go back,” “hold on,” “repeat”).

4 Options in ASR:

  1. DTMF
  2. Directed Dialogue
  3. Partial Natural Language
  4. 100% Natural Language

Your selection will be dependent on the specific outcomes you are looking for. A fully natural language solution is often the best choice considering it creates a more conversational feel and a more effortless experience for the caller. But it has to work! Nonetheless, to ensure you are getting the technology that serves your business and customers best, it is pertinent to understand each of these styles and what the vendor’s approach is.

Hosting options. Cloud-based contact center solutions are becoming more and more popular due to the efficiency and convenience of having immediate access to new technologies without the burden of a full onsite upgrade. However, this does not necessarily mean it is the right solution for you. Research the full list of benefits and drawbacks of each option to fully understand what it means. Whichever direction you choose to go will have both an immediate and long term impact on internal resources and cost. To reiterate, this ought to be a scalable solution that can accommodate the changes in your business in the upcoming years. This decision could potentially impact multiple groups and stakeholders and you want to be prepared for what is ahead.

Available applications. You may have a specific idea of what tasks you would like to have automated (payments, surveys, shipment notifications, etc.), but you need to know the core competencies of the vendor and be able to evaluate if it adds value for you. For example, can they handle inbound and outbound calls or are there limitations? List out all the options available and then prioritize based on highest to lowest impact on your specific business challenges. In addition, when making any type of investment it is best to look long term. Can the technology scale to meet future needs as the business evolves and grows? Ideally you can start with one call type and gradually automate more after seeing some initial success.

Development time. What can you and your team expect for an actual launch date? From initial conversations and data transfers to production and testing there are a lot of variables that can affect this one. Regardless of the variables, any vendor should be able to give an estimate of their average time to go live. In order to properly scope the project and have a firm understanding of the time and resources needed to launch, this data is imperative. Use this date to help create a timeline that will provide insight into when other business units are required to get involved and provide resources or data. The idea is to plan and prioritize accordingly and not cause any delays.

Post-launch maintenance & service. With some vendors, you may encounter a “set it and forget it” mentality and once the solution goes live, you are on your own. Before signing any contracts, it is best to have a full understanding of what you can expect in the long-term. This will probably vary pretty dramatically from vendor to vendor and with cloud vs. on-premise solutions. With any new technology or service there may be unanticipated issues that come up. It is best to know up front what you will be responsible for and what the vendor will manage, as well as if there are fees associated with handling those unexpected issues. In addition, you should consider the vendor’s approach for ongoing maintenance and updates. Ongoing tuning and application enhancements are mandatory for a successful voice channel but not always included in the monthly fees you are paying. Do not compromise on maintenance and tuning; it can make or break the long-term success of the solution! However, if the maintenance fees are too high, that can also negatively impact the overall ROI of the solution. Your vendor should be transparent with any support and maintenance fees so you can budget appropriately.

The comprehensive list of discussion points above should get you started on the right track to a successful partnership with your internal teams and prove as a guide to help you through vendor evaluations. Once you have all the information you need you can use the PDF checklist to determine which vendor is the best fit.