2013 IVR Predictions and Tech Trends

It is that time of the year when everyone likes to make 2013 New Year predictions.

But first we decided to review our 2012 IVR predictions to see how we did. While none of the 2012 predictions were exactly ground breaking regarding the way IVR services were utilized or delivered, we were still pleased to see there were no glaring mistakes.

So what do we see for 2013? Frankly a bit of a repeat of 2012, with incremental enhancements. But rather than just our view of 2013 projections, we also decided to scour the internet to see what other technology projections might impact the future and use of IVR systems. Here are a few projections, with our take on what they mean to the industry.

Forecast #1 – IVR usage is not in a death spiral, despite what others may claim.

We promise the following is true, but decided to protect the identity of the company because frankly we believe their projections contradict themselves. A mobility company recently published their 2013 mobile industry projections. Prediction # 4 was “IVR will fade into obscurity” while mobile technologies will ultimately make call centers irrelevant. Yet Prediction # 7 was “Voice search will make its move” thus allowing companies to extend powerful new features to their end users. Well…………….if Voice Search is not an example of IVR (Interactive Voice Response) then what do we know?!? Sounds like IVR will be around for a while after all.

Forecast # 2 – IVR hosted services will almost completely replace on-premise equipment.

We stated in our 2012 forecast that cloud computing will continue to drive down the cost of service delivery, while significantly increasing IVR usage by smaller firms. What we did not predict was how much the industry might grow. A report released by the research firm Frost & Sullivan, predicted 2013 IVR hosted revenue growing from $877 million in 2006, to over $3.2 billion in 2013. A link to the news release regarding the projections can be found here.

Also of interest is the fact that hosted IVR revenues are now larger than on-premise IVR systems (thus validating our 2012 predictions #3 and #4). It seems only logical this growth rate be significantly influenced through wider adoption of IVR services by small to mid-sized companies, as well as new ways to deploy IVR system capabilities. We believe IVR systems and applications are excellent examples validating the promise of cloud computing services. Once again it seems likely IVR will be around for the foreseeable future.

Forecast #3 - No one really knows how big the IVR market is. Not even the “Experts”.

We found three respected research firms that have released market forecasts over the last few years. Their projections are all over the map. The good news is that each of the three forecasted continued growth, albeit at different rates. In 2009 T3i Group (as reported by TMCnet ) forecasted the IVR market to grow from $431 million per year to $514 million per year by 2013 (that seems low to us). As previously stated in Forecast #2, Frost & Sullivan released their report stating hosted IVR services have grown from $877 million in 2006, to a projected $3.2 billion in 2013 (and that seems high to us, but considered good news). And Global Industry Analysts, Inc. recently released a report indicating global IVR systems will reach $2.78 billion by 2017. A link to that press release can be found here.

So it seems any way you slice it the IVR industry is growing; it is just which revenue number you wish to believe.

Forecast #4 – Mobile and IVR applications are not mortal enemies.

It is easy to understand why most individuals believe mobile applications are becoming a user’s preferred choice for retrieving information. One reason that comes to mind is that with mobile applications the user is in control of how they express their query, while the IVR application typically has a fixed decision tree. However, both applications have the intended goal providing a cost-effective method for customers to retrieve information without involving the expense of live agents. And in many cases, mobile applications can hand off queries to an automated IVR system or live agent when necessary. Companies using both IVR and mobile applications for customer support need to be clear on the benefits both types of service offer, and design their systems appropriately.

Forecast #5 – The most prevalent speech recognition products are IVR based, but products like Apple’s Siri will spur improvements to context aware IVR systems.

Siri by Apple Computer is a very good example of a context aware voice recognition application, even in its current stage of deployment. Most people don’t know the precursor of Siri was originally a DARPA based project called PAL (Personalized Assistant that Learns), and actually has technology roots in IVR systems. The intent of PAL was to improve computer support to military commanders and staff. While significant challenges remain to speak into a phone and have a system respond with the correct information on a wide range of topics; progress is being made. As systems become better at capturing, analyzing, and organizing unstructured caller or customer data and then integrating that capability with IVR systems, context aware systems will become more capable in predicting caller needs and answering speech based inquiries correctly.

So there you have it, five of our views on IVR trends taking place in 2013. We welcome your comments or even your own 2013 IVR predictions if you would like to share. Drop us a line at atsi_marketing@acclaimtelecom.com or call us at 866-324-6416.

2012 IVR Industry Projections

It seems everyone likes to make projections about the future.  We at Acclaim Telecom are no different, so we thought we would share some of our opinions on future directions of the IVR industry.   Keep in mind we are not a research organization such as Gartner or Forrester.  Our predictions are based on our experiences with our customers as well as our responsibility of staying relevant to our customers for the future.  So with that mild disclaimer, here are ten (10) IVR trends we expect to continue or increase in 2012.

  1. Despite the rise of social media and alternative methods of providing customer support, use of traditional IVR systems will never die or go away.  No real surprise here.  In fact, mobile phones increased the use of traditional IVR systems, even as smart phones and electronic tablets have created additional avenues of providing customer support.  The ability to access information over the phone (mobile and land line based) is still one of the most convenient ways of doing so for the majority of consumers.
  2. Having raised the topic of smart phones and electronic tablets, they will continue to put pressure on traditional IVR systems to improve their ROI and increase effectiveness.  New and alternative methods of supporting customers drive companies and vendors to assess how they traditionally provided value.  And that is a good thing for customers.
  3. IVR Cloud Computing based services will continue to drive down cost and increase the speed of deployment of IVR systems for all companies; small, medium and large.
  4. And speaking of Cloud Computing based services; IVR from the cloud will continue to significantly expand the ability of small and mid-sized companies to take advantage of IVR capabilities.  Most all of the usual financial and technological benefits associated with Software as a Service (SaaS) apply to IVR applications delivered from the Cloud.
  5. 2012 will be a year of pragmatic approaches and incremental improvements for customer support services.  While the business climate was much more resilient in 2011 than most expected, cautious optimism is still an aggressive prediction for many companies in 2012.  Companies will continue to squeeze as much functionality as possible from existing systems, with upgrades or new system installations being driven by careful ROI analysis or legacy systems no longer being able to adequately serve their needed function.
  6. The challenges of integrating multimodal methods of customer support (IVR, web based services, email, SMS text messaging, and live agent conversations) will continue to increase in importance.  Customer expectations for more effective support increases with the introduction of new technology.  However, the complexity of integrating and tracking customer interactions through different mediums will continue to increase in importance and require thoughtful planning for customer support organizations.
  7. Integrating business and data analytics into IVR systems will continue to increase in importance.  The need to improve the effectiveness of IVR systems and minimize customer frustration through improved information delivery is a never ending pursuit.
  8. SMS text messaging and email notifications / services integrated into IVR systems will continue to gain acceptance and usage.
  9. Voice XML (VXML) based IVR continue to expand at a rapid pace, and traditional legacy system based IVR systems continue their rapid decline in sales.   There was a huge deployment of legacy IVR systems in the late 1990s and they are reaching the end of their useful product lifecycle, both in terms of support costs as well as functionality.  While DTMF based systems still represent the largest installed based, voice enabled systems continue to close the gap as vendors and companies become smarter on how to use Speech Recognition based technologies.
  10. This last one may surprise you coming from a company that makes its living providing IVR services.  IVR systems will continue to be an easy target to poke fun at.

Why?  Like many situations; partly based on fact, partly based on unrealistic customer expectations, and also based on past sins committed.   Most callers know whether their needs can be met from a standard set of menu options, or if they need to speak with a live agent when they first call.  The more difficult companies make it to speak to a live agent (in the pursuit to minimize live agent interaction due to higher costs) or by implementing overly complex menu options, the easier it is for caller frustration to occur.  We had some fun with this topic in a blog published June 2010 titled, “IVR Rage Syndrome” and our commitment to eliminating I.R.S.

If you have a personal prediction for the IVR industry in 2012, we would love to hear and share them!  Drop us a line at atsi_marketing@acclaimtelecom.com and share your thoughts or leave a comment here on the blog.

Did Steve Jobs Have a Major Impact on the IVR Industry?

It may be hard to find an industry in which Steve Jobs did not in some manner directly influence. We at Acclaim Telecom believe that is true for the IVR industry. The amount of impact on the IVR industry depends on how much direct influence you wish to credit Jobs.

Steve Jobs is universally recognized for his brilliance in transforming technology products into an art form; that combined with his obsessive focus on quality and user experience. From the beginnings of Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh computer, to the acclaimed release of the iPod, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; each proved highly innovative and disruptive in their respective industry. But I have to wonder if Steve Jobs really knew the impact the iPad and iPhone would have on the business enterprise.

So what does all of this have to do with the IVR industry?

Early on IVR systems were clearly the dominant alternative of providing customer support without speaking with a live agent. The adoption of the iPhone and iPad contributed significantly to the creation and accelerated acceptance of alternative avenues of providing customer support services. Mobile devices allowing easy access to web enabled services, SMS text capabilities, and the ability to receive email on either the iPhone or iPad (and initially on the RIM Blackberry) have decreased the reliance on IVR systems.

We are not predicting the demise of the IVR industry however. While IVR may not be perceived as sexy or cool as “iTechnology”, not everyone has a smart phone or electronic tablet. Based on information obtained through internet research, cell phone ownership is exceptionally high (no surprise here). In the U.S. almost 91% of the population owns some form of cell phone. In Europe and Russia, there are 13 cell phones owned for every 10 individuals, and in Asia & Pacific almost 70% of the population owns a cell phone. IVR systems still play a very important role in customer service organizations and ease of access increases through the use of cell phones. And just to prove the point, I took advantage of calling an IVR system while traveling to the east coast over the Christmas holiday to check some personal account status from my mobile phone.

Besides the obvious reduction of relying primarily on IVR systems for customer support, here is the more important impact smart phones and tablet technologies are having on customer support services…… the necessity to have a more comprehensive and integrated CRM solution encompassing all methods of support to enhance customer experiences.

The fundamentals of IVR technology are unlikely to radically change. While improvements continue to be made to speech recognition systems, the core process is still effectively the same; dial the customer support phone number, enter appropriate account and personal identification information via touch tone or voice recognition, and receive information from the company’s data repository. What is changing with IVR systems is the following:

  • Improving the type or amount of information you can obtain over the phone due to increasingly powerful business analytics tools and improved application design in response to increased competition.
  • Increased integration of SMS and email capabilities into legacy IVR systems as well as newly deployed IVR systems.
  • The necessity to keep track of customer interactions from multiple support avenues (smart phones and web enabled CRM applications) in an integrated manner to support future customer inquiries.

None of these mentioned enhancements represent a radical or disruptive method of providing customer support from IVR systems. What they do represent is improved ROI for one of the earliest and still highly dominant methods of providing customer support services.

Currently, one of the more cost effective ways Acclaim Telecom is seeing increased ROI and improved customer satisfaction is through the integration of SMS text messaging and email based capabilities with IVR systems. Providing outbound notifications, transaction or event confirmations, transmitting requested data for future use or reference, or prompting alternative system interaction for more complex transaction requests are but a few of the ways SMS text and email capabilities are being used.

Acclaim Telecom would be happy to discuss how you can take advantage of integrated SMS text messaging or integrated email to enhance your customer support services. Just give us a call at 1-866-324-6416 or drop us a line at atsi_marketing@acclaimtelecom.com

A Brief Perspective on the Evolution of IVR Technologies

With the constantly accelerating pace of technology advances, we sometimes lose sight of what earlier introductions of now commonly used services originally looked like.  So we thought you might enjoy a brief history on the evolution of IVR technologies.

Early on Automated Call Attendants (ACD) allowed for some basic or fundamental call routing capabilities.  The auto attendant had a very specific purpose in mind; to replace the live attendant or operator and route calls.  Most common auto attendant features included routing calls to an extension, transfer to voice mail, play messages, repeat menu selections, have a default mailbox, and allow you to “0” out to an operator.  All are important features, but with limited operational intelligence. Auto attendants were almost always integrated into a PBX system.

A PBX (private branch exchange) connects the internal phones, typically for a business to the external telephone network, and through trunk lines. Because PBX systems incorporated fax machines, modems, telephones, and more, the term “extension” became widely used to refer to any end point of the PBX.  As PBX systems became more powerful, enhanced features were added, but still not to the level of current IVR (interactive voice response) systems.

It was the invention of DTMF (dual-tone, multi-frequency signaling) that provided the technical foundation for future use of IVR systems.  DTMF or touch tone phone systems were first made available to the public in 1963.

It was in the early 1970’s that IVR systems began to make headway in call centers to automate basic, repetitive tasks.  Initially call center IVR systems were tied into larger mainframe computing systems. The technology was still fairly rudimentary and expensive.  By the 1980’s a growing number of new vendors, advances in technology (both computationally and in networking) made the use of IVR systems more cost effective.  As the IVR systems became more intelligent and powerful, application and specific industry usage increased.  This was also the time where IVR functionality became more intelligent and separated from PBX systems.

One of the earlier drawbacks to IVR systems was that almost all the programming languages were proprietary.  These proprietary languages or scripting tools were unique to the specific IVR vendor and not transportable across other IVR systems.  That limitation, combined with the fact that unless you are a Fortune 500 size firm, IVR development skills are not typically mainstream skills required by most companies.  That required a customer wishing to use IVR systems to rely heavily on the system vendor to also write the applications for their use.

Speech recognition for IVR systems, also known as Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) systems have continued to gain acceptance over time.  Speech Reco (industry slang referring to Automated Speech Recognition) began to make real inroads in the late 1990’s as the underlying speech recognition algorithms improved, along with the processing power of hardware.  Speech recognition applications bring their unique set of challenges as well as benefits, and speech reco enabled applications require a different development approach from DTMF based applications.  Interestingly, the first speech recognition device was showcased in 1952, and was capable of only recognizing single spoken digits. (1)

The widespread and rapid acceptance of the internet and web based applications proved to be another inflection point in the evolution of IVR systems and languages.  The desire for more tightly integrated capabilities of voice applications to internet based applications drove the development of VXML (Voice Extensible Markup Language) and CCXML (Call Control XML).

VXML and CCXML make it possible to develop applications that work on multiple platforms (with some limited porting efforts).  VXML specifically helps IVR applications integrate more effectively with internet based applications.  The IVR application can be written by individuals who are also experienced with web based application development using XML   A major goal of VXML was to make web based applications and content available through a voice portal.

CCXML is designed to enable call control telephony support for VXML applications. CCXML provides control for how phone calls are placed, answered, transferred, conferenced, and more.

Another significant advantage of making voice applications easily web compatible is the ability to deliver services through a hosted services or cloud based business model.  By opening up these previously proprietary systems, the focus is moving from hardware to the applications and services perspective.

Early adopters of IVR technologies included the financial industry, utilities, travel industry, and other capital intensive industries with high call volume customer care centers.  Current technology advances have driven down system costs, improved reliability, enabled more effective service delivery models, which in turn have enhanced and improved IVR system usage.

However, none of these advances mean much if companies using IVR systems do not stay laser focused on improving and enhancing the user experience based on these newer technologies.

As always, the team at Acclaim Telecom would be happy to discuss ways to use IVR applications to enhance top line revenue or improve operational effectiveness.  And we promise to keep the sales pitch in the desk drawer!

1 – Davies , K.H., Biddulph, R. and Balashek, S. (1952) Automatic Speech Recognition of Spoken Digits, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 24(6) pp.637 – 642