What is Visual IVR (Interactive Voice Response)? Before SpeechTek 2014, I must admit that I’d never heard the term Visual IVR. It turns out that Visual IVR is an important, relatively new technology for providing remote support to customers and supporting other customer interactions. Visual IVR is a far cry from the old, dreaded phone tree (Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Something Else You Don’t Want). So how does Visual IVR relate to intelligent assistant (virtual agent) technologies? We’ll get to that in just a minute.
While at SpeechTek, I had the opportunity to speak with Steve Herlocher, Chief Marketing Officer of Jacada, a provider of Visual IVR. Herlocher gave me a demonstration of how the Jacada technology works on a smartphone. I tried the demo myself and you can do the same by accessing the Jacada Visual IVR demo from their website. Here’s an example of how the Jacada solution would support a customer who wants to check up on the status of something she recently ordered.
First, the user calls a customer support number. She’s prompted to Press 1 if she’s calling from a smartphone. So far it sounds like the dreaded phone tree, right? But after the user presses 1, she’s transported into a completely different experience, like Alice in Wonderland sliding down the rabbit hole. Instead having to navigate through more frustrating options and finally getting connected to a human, the user immediately receives an SMS message on her phone. When she opens the message and clicks on the link, she’s taken to a website that fits perfectly on her phone screen, regardless of what type of mobile device or operating system she’s using (thanks to HTML5). The user interface prompts her to select from several common functions. She selects the button that says “Check Order Status.” Next, she types in her order number. In a flash, the system looks up her order and shows her the current status and expected delivery date. She can click another link to go straight to the shipper’s website and view all the most recent tracking data.
In the demo that Herlocher showed me, the Visual IVR was engaged with the customer while they were waiting for their support call to connect them with a human agent. During that wait time, the Visual IVR offered the customer various support options. It can also use the hold time to recommend upsells that might interest the customer or to run a quick survey. According to Herlocher, Visual IVR supports other channels, such as social media sties, chat and email.
How does Visual IVR relate to virtual agents? Based on what I saw of the Jacada solution, Visual IVR might very well be a better option for some use cases than a virtual agent. As Herlocher said during our discussion, it’s all about usability. The Jacada demo, where a user needs to confirm her order status and track shipment information, is a great example of a situation that lends itself well to Visual IVR. The user has access to easy-to-follow self-help options right from her phone or tablet. She can quickly get the information she needs, so there’s really no reason to engage in dialog with an agent. The Visual IVR seems like a more direct way to get the customer the help she needs.
On the other hand, I can imagine situations where a combination of intelligent assistant and Visual IVR could work well together. Just last week I reviewed Nuance’s branded personal assistant “Dom” for Domino’s Pizza. While I don’t think Dom and the supporting application can be labeled Visual IVR, the Dom assistant works in tandem with a very rich user interface that streamlines the pizza ordering and check out process. It wasn’t that long ago that executing a complex transaction like ordering a pizza would have been unthinkable from a smartphone. The user experience on smartphones has been transformed by new UI technologies.
If a user hesitates while interacting with a Visual IVR solution, for example, a virtual agent might speak up to ask if the user needs help with the next step. Or a virtual agent might be used to guide the user through each of the Visual IVR screens. For right now, though, I agree with Herlocher that there’s probably no pressing need to force a quick marriage between virtual agent technologies and Visual IVRs. Each has it’s preferred use case. For companies looking for ways to improve both customer support and customer interactions, it makes a lot of sense for them to investigate both technologies before choosing a direction.