How Does IVR Work?


IVR or Interactive Voice Response is a technology which allows incoming callers to navigate a phone system before talking to a human operator. IVRs work with DTMF tones — touch tones from a telephone — and some have voice recognition or even artificial intelligence to respond to and route callers. Phone trees with Interactive Voice Response systems help support lines and call centers handle more phone calls for every live agent.

IVR Systems to Assist Customers and Live Agents
Interactive Voice Response helps both the agents handling incoming phone calls and the people calling into the contact center. When incoming callers navigate a phone menu, that call can be intelligently routed to the best agent for the job. This reduces a caller’s frustration by not requiring them to slog through multiple levels of customer support while freeing up live agents to handle specialized issues and tasks.

IVR isn’t only used for identifying support or sales agents, however. For some callers, IVR combined with text-to-speech means callers can find necessary information with no need to talk to an agent: think account balances, schedules, or instructional messages. Also, for departments which don’t staff expertise 24/7, an intelligent phone tree can route callers to department voicemail and promise a callback during work hours.

How IVR Technologies Work Together
There are a few technologies that go hand in hand with Interactive Voice Response. The touch tones from a telephone, known as DTMF tones, are the core technology IVR is built upon. Speech recognition is a great companion to DTMF tones, allowing callers to simply talk in their native language in response to a prompt. Finally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for IVR is starting to make its way to call centers, where callers can talk without being constrained by a menu. With AI, IVR can attempt to route callers to their intended place or to their needed information. Diagram of how an IVR system works with touch tones

How IVR Uses DTMF Tones
Most phones support touch tones or DTMF tones, where keying or touching a number on a phone creates a sound at a certain pitch. This is the interactive part of IVR, where a caller either enters a choice from the phone menu or keys in a number in response to a prompt. Examples include prompts to select a language, or to enter a birthdate or account ID.

Interactive Voice Response generally starts with DTMF tone recognition and adds on other technologies. As touch tones were created to assist phone interaction, people are very familiar with how they work and can easily navigate phone menus built on touch tones.

Voice Recognition in Interactive Voice Response
Voice Recognition is relatively new for IVR, at least when compared to touch tones. Also known as speech recognition, this technology allows caller to respond to a prompt using spoken language, which can ease navigation through a menu.

When done correctly, accurate speech recognition can greatly help repeat callers find the right areas of information and minimize frustration. Using natural language is a better customer experience than overloading a touch tone…such as requiring a caller to press ‘1’ multiple times while navigating to their final endpoint.