Why Contact Centers in the Pandemic Are Turning to Conversational IVR


COVID-19 has hurled enterprises towards unforeseen setbacks. It has changed customer attitudes and behaviors and forced enterprises to respond. Brands with competitive pricing, a superior product, or the most memorable marketing campaign might not have an advantage compared with those that provide reliable, easily accessible, and meaningful customer support, and therefore build trust.

During a crisis, people want to be heard and understood, and hence contact centers are crucial. As per the Accenture report, 58% of customers prefer to solve urgent issues by calling the support team rather than using other channels.

How has pandemic affected contact centers and customer support

Contact centers are accustomed to high call volumes in situations like hurricanes, snowstorms, holiday shopping days. However, such conditions are short-lived that the best contact centers overcome with negligible or short-term effect on customer service.

However, COVID-19 has brought unpredictable challenges worldwide. Globally, contact centers have shut down, reduced agent headcount, or are struggling to ramp up remote work. Conversely, the demand for customer care interactions for complex and urgent issues surged drastically. In March 2020, the average ticket volume across industries was drastically higher than the pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, enterprises ill-prepared to handle spiking tickets reported increased wait time, lower call resolutions, and decreased customer satisfaction (CSAT). It has set a new benchmark for just how agile contact centers need to be to ensure excellent customer service.

The airlines provide a telling example. Around March, with the spread of Covid-19, travel plans worldwide got disrupted. Airlines’ customer support saw an unprecedented rise in call volume. Customers looking to get their flights canceled or modified with Canadian airline WestJet had to wait in excess of 600 minutes to reach an agent (both due to a pandemic and winter storm in Canada).

Given the impact of COVID-19, contact centers face perhaps their biggest challenge involving demand spikes and workforce disruption.

The Problem

Contact centers have scaled up their call handling capacity. However, telephony based on traditional IVR systems fall behind. Complex navigation menus, lack of conversational ability, and inflexibility fail to live up to customers’ expectations. Customers end up requesting to speak to live agents.  But, the availability of agents continues to be a limiting factor. Due to lockdowns, agents are working from home with setbacks like improper workspace setup, slow internet access, and adjusting to different time zones. Customers are put on long hold times or misrouted. This leads to more frustration than satisfaction. According to the 2019 Vonage IVR Survey, 61%  of US customers term the current IVR experience as very poor.

Enterprises are looking for scalable and efficient solutions to align with customer needs and deliver exceptional customer support experience. Advanced AI technology plays an integral part in alleviating some of the pain points of the customer support team during a crisis.

The Solution — Conversational IVR

Status quo solutions do not help here. Businesses need AI-powered channels for customer service, and one of the technologies to consider is conversational IVR. AI-powered conversational IVR  system has the ability to understand human speech as well as the context, intent, and sentiment, empowering businesses to engage customers in human-like interactions at scale.

Conversational IVR replaces the long and complex menu-driven system with artificial intelligence, natural language understanding/processing, and quick response capabilities. Customers speak to the AI-powered conversational IVR system like how they interact with a live agent and resolve most issues using self-service; this provides a much free form and dynamic customer experience.

Conversational IVR — The Future of the Contact Center

Contact centers need to implement cutting-edge AI technology to provide a desirable CX in a time of crisis and beyond. If your customer reaches you by phone and is in distress,  you do not want to disrupt their customer service experience by putting them on hold or misrouting them to the wrong desk.

Conversational IVR offers reliable and scalable support without human involvement.  It does not replace live agents but rather elevates their efficiency by acting as the first line of defense for unforeseen situations. It empowers businesses to deliver positive experiences for customers by ensuring easy accessibility, zero wait times, and instant resolutions.

  • Customers can talk and convey their issues to the AI system and get a suitable response in natural language.
  • There is no need for customers to navigate menus and press buttons. They don’t have to listen to boring and repetitive script and recite a narrow set of rigidly defined prompts.
  • Customers get a personalized, convenient, and frustration-free self-service without the hassles of a monotonous menu-driven structure.
  • Conversational IVR increases agents’ efficiency and satisfaction. Not every call or request is routed to the agents, and they do not have to rush through resolutions to shrink the queue. Agents have more time to focus on sensitive and challenging tasks.
  • Efficient use of live agents decreases overall operational costs. Offloading, high-volume, routine conversations to conversational IVR, the volume of calls routed to live agents can be reduced by 40%.
  • In the instances where human interaction is crucial, customers are routed to the most suitable agent, along with the information already collected to streamline the experience.

Where Does Agara’s Conversational IVR System Fits In?

Agara’s Conversational IVR system transforms traditional processes by putting the customer first. Instead of expecting the customer to listen to and choose from interminable options, it applies cutting-edge machine learning to understand and redirect them automatically.

Customers can state in natural language what they need assistance with. Agara will automatically route them to the right desk or try and resolve routine queries autonomously, without involving a human agent. It can even ask for clarification in case the customer is not sufficiently clear. Agara’s intelligent system use the wait time to collect data and information relevant to the customer’s query and pass it to the agent before they get connected.

Agara works for enterprises of all sizes with its flexible but secure setup. It seamlessly works with any telephony setup and takes under 4 weeks to be launched in a live production environment. Click here to Schedule a demo. In case of any queries, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]

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