Jacada Visual IVR Helps Customers Discover the Benefits of Self-Service

We’ve all seen the growing interest that companies have in engaging customers through SMS and messaging-based platforms. We also know the trend towards customer self-service, which brings benefits to both the customer and the companies that serve them. But how about leveraging the old-fashioned IVR call tree to nudge customers into a more satisfying self-service experience?

That’s exactly what Jacada, the Visual IVR provider, helped one of its large customers accomplish.

Visual IVRJacada recently sent me a thick deck chock full of data from various customer case studies. A large credit card company had deployed a very popular app that was getting high usage rates. But the company’s data showed a sizable percentage of customers still tended to call live support specialists. Further analysis indicated that the majority of people calling in for support had questions related to their account balance or billing questions.

Jacada came up with a creative approach to help these customers understand the benefits of self-service. When customers called into the bank’s IVR, they gave them the option of pressing 1 to transition into a Visual IVR experience. What started out as a customer service experience from the 20th Century suddenly transformed into a customer helping themselves by using their smartphone. Nice!

Within the first 3 months of its introduction, a whopping 25% of the IVR callers actually took the bait and switched into the Visual IVR session. 66% ranked the service as “very good” or “excellent.” And ultimately, 69% completed their service experience without engaging a human call agent. Those are significant results.

One of the things that I really like about Visual IVR is the way it can lead a person into a rich, user-friendly self-service experience without them even having to think about it. Another example from the Jacada case studies dealt with a postal service, The service is using Jacada to embed Visual IVR into SMS so that customers can track packages directly from a messaging session.

That kind of integration between a technology people are comfortable with (texting) with one they may not be as familiar with (self-service) is a good thing. It helps people discover the many benefits of self-service while enabling companies to meet their goal of lowering support costs. Everybody wins!

Jacada Granted Patent on Visual IVR Technology

Jacada announced today that they have received US Patent No.: US 8,995,646 B2, which covers some of the technology underlying the company’s Visual IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system. I wrote about Jacada’s Visual IVR technology last summer after seeing a demo at SpeechTek 2014. As I mentioned in that post, Visual IVR systems are certainly different from intelligent assistant applications.

Jacada Visual IVRVisual IVR offers the user an interface that extends the capabilities of their self-service session. For example, if the customer wants details on a shipment or a product, a live agent can send them an SMS message that lets them access a self-service interface from their mobile device.

With or without the support of the human agent, the user can enter account or product details and retrieve the information they’re seeking. Visual IVR transforms the user’s mobile device into their own personalized support application.

I”m not on expert on patents, but I reviewed the patent description to see if I could understand the basics of what is claimed. It looks to me like the patent covers the technology required to determine that the user needs to extend his/her self-service session to a human agent in order to get assistance. This technology includes a process and means for connecting the human agent with the user’s device and for transferring data about the user’s interactions into the self-service session.

The patent also seems to include a means for a real person to interact with the user and help them navigate their way through the visual interface that’s pushed to them.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, there are most likely use cases that lend themselves better to Visual IVR than to support via a dialog-based virtual agent / intelligent assistant.  As Visual IVR systems become more sophisticated, it may turn out that these handy self-service options are preferred over conversational agents. I also wouldn’t be surprised if dialog-based virtual agent systems begin to work in tandem with Visual IVR technologies. 

Jacada is certainly a major player in the Visual IVR arena and their new patent provides them with substantial intellectual property to continue to build out their offerings and customer base.

Visual IVR – Giving Virtual Agents a Run for Their Money

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.

Visual IVRWhile 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.