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Five9

Five9 is an all-in-one cloud contact center solution for inbound, outbound, blended and omnichannel contact centers world-wide. Powered by Practical AI, Five9 enables agents to provide customer experiences across phone, emai...Read more about Five9

4.2 (460 reviews)

6 recommendations

Nextiva Contact Center

Create more powerful customer experiences while reducing cost and complexity so you can grow your customer relationships, empower your agents, and delight your customers. Serve customers where they are and when they want with tr...Read more about Nextiva Contact Center

4.4 (94 reviews)

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Zendesk Suite

Zendesk is a cloud-based help desk management solution offering customizable tools to build customer service portal, knowledge base and online communities. The solution offers a customizable front-end portal, live chat features an...Read more about Zendesk Suite

4.4 (3848 reviews)

3 recommendations

Ringover

Ringover is the no.1 business phone system that gives you unlimited calls to 110 countries, video conferencing, SMS and group messaging, call recording, call whispering and more features focused on improving your teams productivit...Read more about Ringover

4.6 (369 reviews)

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Talkdesk

Talkdesk is a cloud-based call center solution that helps businesses improve customer satisfaction while simultaneously reducing customer support costs. It uses interactive voice response (IVR), automatic call distribution (ACD) a...Read more about Talkdesk

4.5 (722 reviews)

2 recommendations

LiveAgent

LiveAgent is an online Help Desk solution for e-commerce businesses at the small and midsize levels. The platform offers live chat application, ticket management, online self-service portals, and change and license management, all...Read more about LiveAgent

RingCentral MVP

RingCentral MVP is a cloud-based business communications solution that offers tools for Messaging, Video and Phone. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and unlimited long-distance and local calling. ...Read more about RingCentral MVP

Bitrix24

Bitrix24 is an online workspace for small, medium, and large businesses. It features over 35 cross-integrated tools, including CRM, tasks, Kanban board, Gantt chart, messenger, video calls, file storage, workflow automation, and m...Read more about Bitrix24

VoIP.ms

VoIP.ms is a cloud-based internet phone service solution designed to help businesses manage local, mobile and toll-free number portability across Canada and United States. Key features include voicemail, call waiting, caller ID, D...Read more about VoIP.ms

GoTo Connect

GoTo Connect is the all-in-one phone, meeting and messaging software built for SMBs. It boasts an enterprise-class phone system with 100+ features with inclusive minutes for local, long distance & international calls; video and au...Read more about GoTo Connect

NICE CXone

Organizations around the world are striving to deliver the ultimate customer experience, strengthen brand value, and boost efficiency. NICE CXone empowers brands to achieve these objectives on one interaction-centric platform with...Read more about NICE CXone

CallHippo

CallHippo is a cloud-based call center solution that helps mid to large size businesses with workflow automation and virtual telephony. The platform enables users to give detailed analysis to customers through call recordings. Cal...Read more about CallHippo

Twilio

Twilio is the worlds leading cloud communications platform that enables businesses to build, scale, and operate their own customized communication solutions. The platform is designed to be customizable and easy to use, which means...Read more about Twilio

Weave

Weave is the all-in-one customer communication and engagement platform for small- and medium-sized businesses. From the first phone call to the final invoice and every touchpoint in between, Weave connects the entire customer jour...Read more about Weave

Aircall

Aircall is a cloud-based business phone and call center system that helps manage and streamline customer support and sales engagement operations. Designed for offices and teams in remote areas, it enables users to integrate the so...Read more about Aircall

Kixie PowerCall

Welcome to Kixie, the sales engagement platform that revolutionizes the way you do business. Designed to supercharge your sales performance, Kixie offers ultra-reliable and easily automated calling and texting features that seamle...Read more about Kixie PowerCall

8x8 X Series

8x8 X Series is a cloud-based solution that helps businesses of all sizes establish communication via text messaging, voice calls and video conferencing. The team messaging module lets employees create project-specific public and ...Read more about 8x8 X Series

CloudTalk

CloudTalk is a contact center management solution that enables businesses to streamline communications with teams and customers using virtual call systems. It allows executives to manage inbound/outbound calls, extract interaction...Read more about CloudTalk

Genesys Cloud CX

Genesys Cloud CX™ cloud contact center software transforms your customer experience. It connects data across teams, tools, interactions so you have actionable insights to address customers problems with ease on any channel, at any...Read more about Genesys Cloud CX

Workiz

Trying to manage your field service team with pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets? Workiz is designed for growing field service teams who need to streamline their business. We provide an all-in-one platform that makes scheduling,...Read more about Workiz

Buyers Guide

Last Updated: November 07, 2023

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems are a foundational technology for inbound contact centers. They allow callers to complete tasks over the phone, either via voice response or numerical keypad input.

IVR software can dramatically streamline the performance of a contact center—particularly when used in conjunction with customer relationship management (CRM) software. But it isn’t the best fit for all business models. IVR systems offer complex, specialized functionality, and are packaged in different ways by different vendors.

That’s why we’ve written this guide to help you better understand which systems will work best for your needs. In it, we’ll cover the following topics:

What Is IVR Software?

Benefits of Using IVR Software

Common Functionality

IVR Systems vs. Auto-Attendants

Best-of-Breed Systems vs. Contact Center Suites

What Is IVR Software?

IVR software accomplishes two major goals:

  • It helps callers help themselves through “self-service.” These systems provide automated menus that allow callers to complete tasks without assistance from support agents.

  • In conjunction with an automated call distribution (ACD) system, an IVR system helps route callers to the right support agent when their needs can’t be met by self-service options. (An ACD system parks incoming calls in a queue until agents are available to answer, and then distributes calls to agents using rules that factor in agent skills, performance metrics, etc.) For instance, if a caller says or enters the numerical option for “billing” using the IVR system, they’ll be routed into the call queue (controlled by the ACD system) for an agent in that department.

IVR systems follow a branching menu structure known as a “menu tree.” The top-level menu may include options for, say, “support” and “billing.” If the caller selects “support,” they’ll be funneled into a submenu that contains numerous self-service options for support issues (e.g., instructions on how to reset a device). If these options don’t meet the caller’s needs, the caller will be routed to a support agent.

Branching Prompts in an IVR Menu Tree

Branching-Prompts-in-an-IVR-Menu-Tree

As mentioned, the IVR menu tree also assists in call routing through integration with ACD systems, which use callers’ spoken or touch-tone responses as they navigate the IVR system to route calls to the right agent.

Benefits of Using IVR Software

Customers may not know what the term “IVR” means—but they do know what they like and don’t like, and many perceive IVR technology as annoying and difficult to use. So why does your call center need an IVR system in the first place?

The answer is that IVR can cut down on the number of calls agents have to handle by enabling callers to resolve certain issues through self-service options. By reducing the overall number of calls your contact center handles, you can slash your top expense: personnel.

Moreover, even though consumers tend to dislike IVR technology, they probably aren’t thinking through the alternative: a drawn-out interaction with a support agent. When we interviewed call center benchmarking expert Bruce Belfiore about IVR design best practices, he noted that some consumers (particularly younger callers) prefer to avoid interacting with a support agent whenever possible. These callers actually prefer IVR and other self-service technologies.

Additionally, even if an IVR system isn’t able to fully meet a caller’s needs, it can still automate the initial steps of collecting information and routing the caller to the right group of agents. Without an IVR, these steps would need to be handled by human workers—increasing the number of transfers (and, most likely, the caller’s level of frustration) before getting the call to the right agent.

Simply think back to the times you’ve been bounced around like a ping-pong ball between multiple contact center agents who couldn’t answer your question, and you’ll quickly realize the value of IVR.

Common Functionality

The following list of IVR capabilities includes standard offerings of most systems. This list also includes more advanced capabilities offered by niche vendors or enabled via integrations with other contact center applications:

Visual IVR designer

A drag-and-drop graphical user interface for designing IVR call flows (the branching menus through which callers pass as they select options for support, sales, billing etc.).

Automated speech recognition (ASR)

Allows callers to speak responses instead of using touch-tone input. Frequently requires the use of third-party ASR software, though many IVR vendors partner with ASR vendors to deliver a complete solution. Some systems allow for voiceprint authentication (comparing audio data from a call with a model of the caller’s voice) to verify caller identity.

Text-to-speech (TTS)/common data speaker

Text-to-speech enables the system to read information from databases out loud for customers (payment history, account balances, etc.), as opposed to simply playing recorded prompts. Also assists in the development of IVR menu prompts. A common data speaker is a more basic capability that only allows highly structured data, such as dates and numbers, to be converted into speech.

Multilingual support

Enables the IVR menu structure to play prompts and recognize spoken responses in multiple languages.

Data retrieval from Web server

Allows customer data to be retrieved from a Web server in order to verify response input (e.g., checking a spoken account number against a stored account number) and otherwise assist agents.

Computer telephony integration (CTI)

Data collected from the IVR system (e.g., a customer’s name) is displayed on an agent’s screen to help the agent better assist the caller.

ACD integration

Data collected from the IVR is used to prioritize calls within queues and to distribute calls to various agent skill groups (if the ACD system offers skills-based routing). Users can also enable options such as hold music and estimated wait times to keep callers on the line.

Customer satisfaction surveys

IVR surveys can collect voice or touch-tone responses from callers about their levels of satisfaction with the agent or the IVR system itself. These responses are fed into contact center reporting tools for visibility into key performance indicators.

Outbound IVR/notification system

Outbound notifications such as surveys, appointment reminders, and account alerts can be delivered to customers via voice, email, fax, SMS text, etc. Voice notifications include IVR self-service options that can help the caller resolve the issue (e.g., pay an unpaid bill).

Visual IVR

Allows customers to navigate a visual representation of an IVR menu on a website or within a native app running on a desktop, laptop or smartphone. This is a new technology many vendors don’t yet offer, though a handful of niche vendors specialize in adding visual IVR capabilities to solutions from major contact center vendors.

Visual IVR designer in Five9

IVR Systems vs. Auto Attendants

Businesses frequently think they need an IVR system when they actually only need an auto attendant. IVR systems are sophisticated solutions that are offered on a stand-alone basis or as components of integrated contact center suites. Auto attendants, on the other hand, are standard components of office phone systems.

The basic difference between an auto attendant and an IVR system is: An auto attendant merely routes callers to extensions in a business’s directory, whereas an IVR provides callers with automated self-service options. Auto attendants also tend to lack advanced features such as speech recognition. Nearly every office with a phone system uses some kind of auto attendant, but in most cases, only contact centers use IVR systems.

You can consult our guide to auto attendants for more information on what they do and how they differ from IVRs.

Best-of-Breed Systems vs. Contact Center Suites

Vendors offer IVR systems two different ways: as “best-of-breed” systems sold on a stand-alone basis, or packaged within integrated suites of contact center applications.

Stand-alone IVR solutions are designed to be integrated with systems businesses have already deployed, such as:

By opting for a stand-alone IVR, organizations can avoid replacing the above systems, which frequently represent significant expenditures. PBX integrations allow IVR data to be used in call routing and enable call recording, among other capabilities.

Integrating an IVR and a standard business phone system can provide benefits, such as improved call routing. However, IVR systems usually need to be integrated with a suite of dedicated contact center applications in order to maximize those positive results.

In a contact center environment, data collected by the IVR can be pushed to agents’ computer screens or fed into reporting tools. The IVR integrates with the ACD system to provide sophisticated call routing. Finally, customers who don’t want to interact via voice have other options with a multi-channel contact center solution.