The difference between IVR & IVA

By Mike BanbrookAugust 7, 2023

Excellent customer service is what gives businesses a competitive edge. In fact, PWC surveyed 15,000 people across 12 countries and found 73% of consumers believe customer service and experience is an important factor in their purchasing decisions. As the first point of contact, contact centres and their customer service teams are on the frontline when it comes to creating great first impressions, engaging with customers, and building a top reputation in the market.

It's easy to see how contact centre technology can make or break the customer experience and, ultimately, have a negative impact on the bottom line – especially in the current marketplace. In fact, 83% of businesses believe artificial intelligence (AI) is a key priority in their plans to improve customer experience. Imagine a scenario where a caller attempts to navigate restrictive push button menu options, only to wait in a lengthy call queue to find out that they have come through to the wrong department or agent.

This type of frustrating experience puts a barrier between the customer and the brand which could easily prevent them from buying products or services again. What's also important to understand is that customers today have more choice when it comes to finding the customer experience they are looking for.


Difference between IVR and IVA

IVR is pre-recorded voice interaction, while IVA uses AI to provide personalised, real-time voice and text responses. IVA offers human-like conversations for better customer experiences.

IVR (interactive voice response) is a technology that allows customers to interact with a company using touch-tone keypad inputs or voice commands. IVR systems are typically pre-recorded and offer limited options for customer interactions, such as navigating a menu, accessing account information, or making a payment. IVR systems are designed to automate routine tasks and reduce the workload of call centre agents.

On the other hand, IVA (intelligent virtual assistant) is a more advanced technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to provide personalised, real-time voice and text responses to customers. IVAs simulate human conversation and can understand and respond to customer requests in a more human-like way, providing a better customer experience. IVAs can handle complex tasks, such as problem resolution, and can also be integrated with other systems, such as CRMs and knowledge bases, to provide more accurate and efficient responses.


IVR vs IVA: How do they compare?

So what is an IVR vs an IVA? To put it simply, traditional IVR systems take a one size fits all approach, putting every caller through a fixed menu hierarchy in the hope they would reach the resolution they need. To understand the difference between IVR and IVA, we need to look at the pain points.

The biggest pain point with traditional IVR systems is that it is impossible to create a menu option for every type of caller intent. This is likely because it would keep callers on the phone for a significant amount of time. For this reason, customers often find themselves getting through to the wrong agent and being put back in a call queue, while the opportunities to create self-service options for customers is limited.

An intelligent virtual agent (IVA) brings together the latest technologies and features to handle less complex queries or even carry out simple tasks in a human-like fashion, without the involvement of a real agent. The IVA is transforming the contact centre experience on both an operational and consumer level. IVAs allow for easy and flexible call management without reliance on IT knowledge or resources, consequently empowering contact centre managers and their teams.

IVA’s AI-powered speech recognition technology recognises caller intent and can capture key information. This means customers can reach any number of outcomes in a faster time and do more to help themselves using self-service options.

When it comes to the question of IVR vs IVA, the IVA is really just the most up-to-date iteration of the IVR system. It encapsulates the latest features and trends in IVR technology.


How does an IVA work?

If you are considering IVA-based contact centres to improve your customer experience, it’s important to be across these key practical benefits and outcomes.

Dynamic call routing. While the interactive voice response system is designed to route calls to a limited number of predetermined locations, the virtual live agent takes a more dynamic approach to solving problems and completing tasks. A virtual agent uses artificial intelligence to create an open natural language environment where customers can have natural conversations to achieve the precise desired outcome in minimal time.

With the IVA having the potential to recognise caller intent from their own free speech, customers will automatically be presented with tailored information for their needs or the chance to complete tasks themselves.

For example, an IVA platform like Oration by Convai, allows contact centre managers to set up unlimited targeted banners to address common call types. At the same time, the platform can be configured to allow callers to make payments, check balances and account activity, book appointments, make purchases, plus much more, without speaking to a real agent.

Enabling natural interactions with the power of AI and integration. A fundamental difference between the IVR vs IVA is its conversational AI speech recognition capability and dynamic integration with other business applications which enables the system to do more for customers in a human-like fashion. It’s suggested that AI solutions, like conversational AI implementations, could recover over 6.2 billion hours in employee productivity.

The IVA can ask customers further questions about their reason for calling, gather unique information, or even verify their identity to complete self-service tasks securely. A cloud-based IVA such as Oration can access other environments to complete tasks such as payment portals, booking platforms, inventory management systems, or even by sending the customer relevant information via SMS or email from the company's website. These cloud-based customer experience solutions are also seeing popularity due to their business continuity aspect, with 61% of businesses interested in moving their contact centre operations to the cloud.

Integration with the CRM is also critical to the success of intelligent virtual agents. Accessing customer records, whether by recognising the number a customer is calling from or asking for a unique customer number, helps the system offer more bespoke solutions for customers’ needs. CRM integration also means information about the call and any data captured will always be recorded against the customer for future reference.


What do customers want from an IVA?

More self-service. When choosing between IVR vs IVA or when upgrading your contact centre technology to account for current trends, keep in mind the importance of self-service options. Around 70% of consumers now expect businesses to include a self-service option on their website. An IVA will be one of the most useful tools to help companies enhance their self-service offering for customers in a way that traditional IVR solutions could never achieve with 40% of customers now preferring self-service applications over human contact.

With most customers owning a smartphone and becoming increasingly tech-savvy, more and more people are questioning why they waste so much time in call queues waiting for agents to complete tasks for them. After all, it's a concept that is quickly becoming outdated, especially for less complex tasks.

Some of the top benefits customers experience from having access to self-service options enabled by the IVA include:

  • Immediately accessing the information they need 
  • Completing tasks without waiting on hold
  • Being able to complete tasks or find information 24/7, regardless of contact centre opening hours.

Omnichannel experience. With customers more digitally connected than ever before, they are increasingly open to alternative and often more convenient ways of interacting with customer service teams. In a study completed by Microsoft, around 66% of consumers use around three different types of communication channels when connecting to customer service. With the benefits of better serving the needs and preferences of customers and deflecting more unnecessary calls from real agents, an intelligent virtual agent can be configured to offer customers the chance to switch their interactions to live chat or SMS.

In an omnichannel environment, callers can even have information conveniently delivered directly to their phone via email or SMS once the intent of the call has been established.

Fast resolutions. Modern customers have high expectations, which means they are increasingly becoming sensitive and intolerant to sluggish customer service experiences. This is no surprise with 90% of consumers expecting an immediate response to their customer service questions. And in a cutthroat environment where so many businesses are competing on the customer experience, speeding up access to information and resolutions is critical to attracting and retaining customers.

AI-powered conversational speech recognition technology ultimately means that callers can get from A to B in fewer steps compared to traditional interactive voice response systems. And there are two key reasons for this. First, an IVA system like Oration can immediately determine the caller intent by asking a simple open question like “how can I help you today?” before routing the call to the right location, the first time.

Second, an IVA opens a plethora of opportunities for callers to help themselves or gain information without waiting to speak to a human agent. What's more, in the case of self-service, customers are enabled to seek answers and resolutions right around the clock, as in when they are required.

Personalisation. The ability to personalise interactions is another key differentiator between the traditional IVR vs IVA. With traditional IVR systems, personalisation of the customer experience doesn’t typically begin to take place until an agent picks up the call. It is only at this point that the agent can ask more detailed questions of the caller and access customer records.

Because of the conversational speech recognition capabilities of the IVA system which gives the customer the freedom to speak freely, the customer is greeted with a more personalised experience the moment the IVA picks up the call. Information captured from the caller by the IVA such as phone numbers, location, interaction and purchase history, and account information can all be used to automatically deliver more personalised information and call routing options. This is important for the modern consumer, with 80% of them more inclined to make a purchase from a business that provides personalised customer experiences.

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