Chatbots vs IVR


Chatbots vs IVR: the titans of automated customer routing. For decades, IVR has been unchallenged in its customer service dominion. More recently, however, the disruptive chatbot has entered the fray to fight IVR for the top spot.

Many people claim that chatbots will replace IVR entirely in the coming years.

Meanwhile, others stand by IVR as an indispensable tool (and a necessary evil for a lot of people.)

One thing is certain – both tools have their merits when it comes to automated customer service routing.

So, we’ve analysed the strong and weak aspects of each routing titan. Chatbots vs IVR – which reigns supreme?

What are they?

To understand the battle of chatbots vs IVR, it’s important to know what each tool is.

IVR stands for interactive voice response. It is the formal name for an automated switchboard. They’re the automated phone trees that ask questions to direct calling customers to the right department or operative.

In some cases, they are also used to let customers serve themselves.

Chatbots are the modern cousins of IVR. They operate within chat boxes, such as within live chat web windows and other messaging apps.

Like IVR, they can route contacting customers to the best possible agent or department to handle their query.

Chatbots are also a great tool to support customers wanting self-service options. They can even handle simple queries without the need of a human agent.

The accessibility of voice support

Customers encounter IVR via phone call support and can operate it via voice. For customers that struggle to type or see, then, IVR is far more accessible than chatbots.

Not everyone always has access to the internet, which is something that chatbots rely on. On the other hand, most of us today have mobile phones.

Accessibility, then, is a core strength of IVR. It offers a classic way to automate routing for customers that can’t or don’t want to contact you online.

IVR is tried and tested

Customers are used to handling IVR. In the chatbots vs IVR debate, IVR is tried and tested; chatbots are still new and exploratory.

This means that people know what to expect from IVR. It’s familiar and every-day.

Chatbots, meanwhile, are young, and therefore arguably not as reliable in their performance.

Conversely, the excitement around chatbots and AI technology can make them into status symbols. By using them, you demonstrate that your business is keeping up with modern technology. So, you present your brand as fresh and present, rather than stilted and old-fashioned.

Public opinion

A major weakness of IVR is that it’s become almost universally hated. We’ve all, at some point in our lives, found ourselves repeating ‘representative’, ‘human’, ‘agent’ and other synonyms at increasing volume down the phone.

So common is this, that whenever we find ourselves speaking to an automated phone tree we feel at least a little bit of dread.

As a result, IVR is often a major hurdle for customers wanting support. For all its familiarity, it breeds frustration.

Chatbots don’t face this problem. (At least, not on the same scale.)

Though they’re also not perfect at understanding us all the time, they’re great at picking up keywords (that don’t involve customers having to shout).

Plus, chatbots are much quicker gatekeepers than IVR. This can mean that customers perceive a much smoother experience when using a chatbot — even if the conversation is the same.

Understanding your customers

IVR doesn’t understand natural language the way that humans can. It can mishear and fail due to varying accents, volume and pitch.

This is what leads to us hanging up the phone in disgust, or screaming blue murder down the line – neither of which make for a good experience.

Chatbots are less likely to inspire anger. Advancements in natural language processing mean that customers can talk to a bot in the much the same way they would to a human.

While IVR requires linear dialogue, chatbots can understand non-linear dialogue. This means that IVR has customers drip-feeding the key information to the system, while chatbots can receive it all in one go.

Chatbots only need to find keywords in the text to know how to reply, making it far easier to talk to them. This is a distinct advantage to chatbots in the chatbots vs IVR battle.

Chatbots are more flexible

Giving chatbots an edge in the chatbots vs IVR battle is the question of flexibility. Chatbots are useful for much more than merely routing customers to humans.

While IVR is capable of assisting with self-service, chatbots can do so far more efficiently. They can handle the job of web forms, but also give customers links and extra resources to support self-service.

Furthermore, chatbots can incorporate sentiment analysis. This enables them to identify when customers are getting upset or frustrated.

So, chatbots can escalate chats with frustrated customers to a human representative sooner. An empathetic agent can then calm and help the customer. (Instead of forcing them to answer every question first, as with IVR.)

Room for growth and improvement

The youth of chatbots can be also seen as an advantage in the chatbots vs IVR debate.

Because bots are still babies, they have room to improve and grow. As artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing continue to evolve, chatbots stand to improve immensely.

However, IVR may also stand to improve thanks to the same advancements.

Voice controlled user interfaces like Alexa and Siri are making voice response capability both mainstream and accepted again. Used correctly, IVR could make a comeback.

So, this round between the routing titans leads to a draw: both have ample room for improvement.

Why not both?

There are positives and negatives to both sides of the chatbots vs IVR battle. Yet despite the two tools being so commonly pitted against each other, there’s no reason that you can’t use both in your customer service strategy.

Customers will come to you from all angles. Some will approach online and can be greeted by your friendly chatbot.

Others, meanwhile, might prefer to call you, and can be connected to the best human agent to help them out.

So, why not stop the battle? Let chatbots and IVR work together to improve accessibility and support customers on any channel.

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