Most small businesses don't have the luxury of hiring employees whose sole responsibility is to answer phones all day. Whether it's to route calls to the proper person or department or answer simple questions, handling customer calls can be a large undertaking for a business. To help keep employees focused on their own work — and not talking on the phone all day — many small businesses are turning to interactive voice response (IVR) systems.
By automating the call process, IVR systems allow customers to serve themselves. IVR technology uses touch-tone or speech-recognition programs to answer customer questions, handle their requests or point them in the right direction. This is all done without the need for the customer to speak directly with an employee. Here are 12 IVR solutions for small businesses.
inContact's IVR software lets customers choose the type of help they want, such as self-service or speaking with an agent. The software supports both automated speech recognition and text-to-speech, and features automatic callback for customers who can't wait to speak with a representative. inContact's IVR solution also integrates with popular CRM software and can pull data from popular CRMs like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Oracle RightNow. In addition, the software is easy to update. Businesses with multiple locations can also serve each one with just one IVR application. www.incontact.com
SmartAction combines traditional IVR services with artificial intelligence. SmartAction says its Intelligent Voice Automation (IVA) recognizes speech, understands callers' meaning and intent, and remembers the evolving context of each conversation. SmartAction's IVA responds with personalized, context-relevant and accurate answers, according to the company. While most speech IVR solutions use application-specific programs or scripts, only IVA uses an "AGI Brain" that reasons and learns from experience, the company says. SmartAction's IVA integrates with any customer database, website, PBX phone system or call agent support software. When SmartAction's IVA can't complete a complicated conversation, it captures and provides all relevant call information to live agents. The IVA is also PCI-certified, so businesses can accept payments over the phone. www.smartaction.com
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3. Plum Voice
Plum Group's Plum Voice offers both hosted IVR and on-site IVR. In hosted IVR, the IVR system resides in the cloud, and the responsibility for the maintenance and management of telecommunications and servers falls on the vendor. On-site IVR, on the other hand, integrates with a business's existing telephone systems. Plum Voice offers both inbound and outbound IVR options. The company's outbound IVR allows businesses to target their messages to each type of call. Plum Voice offers a 100 percent uptime guarantee. www.plumvoice.com
4. Agile Networks
Agile Networks offers a suite of unified communications applications, including IVR systems. The company provides both inbound and outbound IVR systems. Agile Networks' inbound IVR technology allows businesses to create menu trees by phone for activities such as banking, getting an account status, checking on a bill, getting the location of a store or offering a directory of employees and departments. The company's outbound IVR systems can call customers with appointment reminders or notifications, provide order statuses, notify customers when a payment is overdue and conduct telemarketing campaigns. www.agile-networks.com
Five9's IVR systems are cloud based, so businesses don't need any additional hardware to use it. Features include a visual script designer with drag-and-drop visual tools that enables businesses to create automated call-processing scripts from start to finish; speech-recognition technology that analyzes calls to create a more natural customer experience; recorded prompts from a library of audio recordings that allows businesses to play messages or instructional voice prompts; and a text-to-speech builder with a variety of voice characters to provide customers with information such as account balances. Five9's IVR also includes call variable reporting, which allows businesses to view the IVR path for each call to see how their system can be improved. www.five9.com
Telzio offers a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system, including IVR functionality, for small businesses. Telzio's IVR menus provide automated greetings with menu options. Businesses can set up custom IVR menus to direct callers to the right place and record custom greetings to provide important information — like business hours, company directories and any other instructions — to their callers. In addition, businesses can automatically forward a call to an operator if a caller doesn't respond to the IVR prompts, as well as repeat instructions up to 10 times if callers need time to make a selection. www.telzio.com
With Synclio's small business IVR, you can program your phone system to answer routine questions, as well as route calls to the appropriate person or department. Businesses can provide callers with basic information, such as business hours or driving directions, or establish prerecorded prompts that callers can select from by using their telephone keypads or through spoken commands. Additionally, businesses can program their IVR to provide detailed account information. www.synclio.com
8. IVR Lab
IVR Lab's IVR system can provide callers with information extracted from local or remote databases, such as account information, telephone banking or bill pay. The company's systems also have the functionality to transfer calls to a live agent or other extension. IVR Lab's IVR systems work with a wide variety of database systems, including MSSQL, MySQL, Access, Foxpro, Oracle and CSV. Overall, the company's systems are fully customizable to each client's particular needs. The IVR Lab systems work with both dedicated telephone lines and VoIP. IVR Lab also provides outbound IVR services. www.ivr-lab.com
9. XO Communications
XO Communications' IVR system is cloud based and builds upon a business's existing infrastructure. The company's inbound and outbound systems allow businesses to complete transactions over the phone, notify customers of relevant changes in services or programs, gather feedback and gauge performance via customer satisfaction surveys, update customers in business interruption situations, and ensure accurate information for product and service warranties by verifying purchase details and information. The company's IVR services can also transfer, record and monitor calls. XO Communications' systems can be managed via its Web-based platform. www.xo.com
CenturyLink offers a hosted and network-based IVR service. The company's network-based system, EZ Route, provides contact-center functionality that lets businesses answer calls, provide messages and announcements, and support call routing to live agents or other IVR applications through a menu-based interface. The system allows you to develop a voice menu and routing scheme via a Web-based interface. The interface also lets you record your own announcements over the phone or upload professionally recorded audio files. When using CenturyLink's hosted IVR service, calls are answered via a touch-tone or speech-recognition menu. The information request is then routed via a secure network to the appropriate Web application server for a response. CenturyLink's ready-to-use applications include store locators, financial status, account updates and PIN resets. The system, which supports text-to-speech applications, can also route callers to a live agent if the system can't handle the customer's request. www.centurylink.com
NewVoiceMedia's IVR is a cloud-based and self-service solution. The system allows businesses to change their IVR menus to reflect the ever-changing behavior of their customers without the need for IT assistance. NewVoiceMedia's inbound IVR services can give caller information related to specific events or stores based on a keypad input. A number of different options can be used to answer the most common queries, such as opening times, ticket prices, location details and latest news. In addition, NewVoiceMedia's IVR solutions are all Level 1 PCI-DSS compliant, offering high levels of security to organizations collecting information or taking card payments over the telephone. www.newvoicemedia.com
12. Interactive Intelligence
Among the tasks Interactive Intelligence's IVR can perform include banking by phone, prescription refills by phone, feedback surveys, outbound notifications, appointment reminders and catalog purchases. The company's services support multilingual options, including Spanish and other languages. Interactive Intelligence's system also provides internal services for employees, such as benefits enrollment, time and attendance reports, shift scheduling and work-order assignments. www.inin.com
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.