How To Implement A Call Center IVR System

4 Mins read

If you’ve only heard about IVR now, this is an excellent opportunity to discover and start using the technology. Chances are high that you’ve come across an IVR system such as Siri or Alexa. More important, however, and in line with the core of this article, will be the use of IVR technology in call centers.

Let’s get off to a good start with some definitions.

What is natural language processing (NLP)

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is an area of Artificial Intelligence working to identify and categorize human language input. It figures out ‘which words are being used?’

What is Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is an important subset of NLP. It first analyzes ‘which words were used’ (just like NLP) then it questions, ‘what do the words mean?’

What is Speech recognition?

Speech recognition is a broad term. When applied to IVR, it’s the most fundamental form of voice input. For instance, IVR services that can understand ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and numbers are performing speech recognition. Speech recognition, also known as speech-to-text, can also process free-form speech input and turn it into text.

What is Conversational IVR?

Essentially, conversational IVR is any interactive voice response system that processes speech as input. More importantly, an IVR system should also respond with speech, which is either pre-recorded or generated dynamically. Hence, the conversational aspect.

The phrases we’ve defined often get used interchangeably. For simplicity, we’ll adopt ‘conversational IVR’.

Back to the how part of implementing one such system for a call center. We should note that when done haphazardly, an IVR can bring problems. Let’s quickly discuss how that could be before suggesting a way to avoid the worst.

How do IVRs create problems? 

Alone, IVR solutions don’t use caller context by default, and there are two reasons why that’s a serious problem. 

#1 – Data has value… so use it!

Gartner predicts that by 2022, 90% of corporate strategies will explicitly mention data as a critical enterprise asset. 

Here’s yet another Gartner stat you’ll probably have read somewhere: 81% of businesses now compete on customer experience.

That’s all good, but what does it imply? 

It potentially boils a company’s competitiveness down to its capacity to turn customer data into actionable information. 

Hoarding data that you won’t use is the same as having company vehicles that nobody drives. Basically pointless. Data is extremely valuable, only if you transform it into information and action!

#2 – You’re not providing the best possible service

One thing you can’t argue with is that no great service ever makes customers repeat themselves. 

If a customer has already called, emailed, or goes as far as sending a messenger pigeon, your IVR should know everything about it. 

Oh, wait! Let’s rephrase that–your organization should use the information it has around a customer. This brings every part of your organization into the equation. 

In the eyes of a customer, your call center, website, your social media profile–and even that automated IVR voice–are all part of the same thing. They’re right, yet in most cases, you treat them as stand-alone elements.

How do you implement IVR correctly?

From the two problems we’ve just discussed above, it’s clear that companies need to get data from databases to the IVR. 

How? Well, the best approach is API integration. What is API integration? ‘API’ stands for Application Programming Interface. Its purpose is pretty straightforward–it’s a type of messenger + universal translator between different software applications. 

Your IVR might not understand the output from your call center CRM–and even if it did, there’s often no direct line of communication between the two. 

That’s where an API comes in handy, sitting in the middle between the CRM and the IVR. It ferries data from one end to the other.

Crucially, it makes sure that that data is presented in a way that both can understand. 

What are the benefits of integrating?

Lots, actually. In fact, the use cases for a strong integration strategy end only with your ability to invent new business processes. 

Some amazing benefits of integrating include:


Self-service is a priority for essentially all organizations–especially contact centers. 

A well-integrated IVR system contributes to this by offering to help customers. Superb IVR systems can handle an entire array of uniquely complex queries and in the process increase customer self-service by 20% at the very least.

Alternatively, an IVR connected with other systems can offer alternative self-service channels, like automated outbound SMS.

Call routing

There are all kinds of data points that you can use to inform call routing. 

Think about:

  • A customer’s language preference
  • Their Lifetime Value
  • Their open Helpdesk tickets
  • Agent availability
  • Agent skills 
  • Data hygiene

The exponentially increasing value of data makes it more important than ever to maintain that data. IVR can contribute to this in one of two ways; 

First, gathering data quickly and with fewer errors than would be the case with an agent.

And second, by automatically asking callers to confirm data previously recorded, while updating anything that’s outdated.  

Keeping agents updated

In a typical 6 minutes long interaction, just 25% is spent on the actual conversation; the rest is manual research. 

It’s important to keep this number on a downward trend. Think about it–shorter calls are cost-effective and improve agent availability. If you achieve this while also getting rid of the awkward silences that plague customer interactions, it’s a double win. 

The trick is to provide customer data as a screen-pop as the call is delivered to the agent. Do that, and you can massively cut down on dead air. 

All this is only possible when the call center IVR system has been implemented by integrating with the rest of the systems around the company.

About babelforce

babelforce is a global cloud communications platform focused on No-Code integration and automation. It allows non-technical people to build even the most complex integrated processes for customer-facing teams, particularly in the call center.