Contact center workforce 101: IVR vs. chatbots vs. agents

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Customer service interactions can quickly evolve, requiring different channels and tools. A quick live chat with a bot, for instance, can rapidly escalate to an emergency call with an agent, which we refer to as an associate, and vice versa. The same is true for a call that begins with an interactive voice response (IVR) system. Leading contact centers understand that each person and tool has its strengths and weaknesses, and create a better customer experience when combined appropriately.

To better understand this, let’s dive into the human and robotic makeup of a modern contact center.

What is an IVR?

An IVR is an automated phone system technology that allows incoming callers to access information via a selected prompt of prerecorded messages without having to speak to an associate.

This tool is mainly used with touch tone keypad selections or speech recognition to get a call routed to a specific department or specialist. An IVR can also collect information from the caller, saving the associate time during the conversation.

The best fit

During times of high call volumes, for example holiday rushes, an effective IVR system can help avoid hold times by helping customers find answers and perform simple tasks. And in cases where a customer needs or requests to speak to a person, the IVR can route the call quickly and seamlessly to an expert associate.

A well designed IVR can increase customer satisfaction and improve contact center operations and KPIs greatly by decreasing user effort with digital interfaces.

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is an automated software that simulates a live chat conversation with a user in natural language through messaging applications, websites, mobile apps, or through the phone. It allows customers to quickly receive answers to simple or common questions. Chatbots are primarily text-based and scripted to answer only specific questions.

The best fit

Chatbots resolve simple tasks quickly and save associates time by eliminating manual tasks that can be easily solved by automation (and are low stress for customers). Users don’t always want to speak to a human and being directed to self-service right from the start can reduce unnecessary friction.

Deflecting low tier operations, 24/7, can improve average handle time and customer satisfaction ratings by giving associates more time to tackle complex questions while the easy issues are handled swiftly by automation.

What is a contact center associate?

Contact center associates are the people that make customer service human. Contact center associates or agents manage phone, email, live chat, and support tickets for a variety of industries. These interactions vary from simple transactions to complex support inquiries.

Contact center associates operate in various industries across the globe, whether it be onshore, offshore or nearshore. And the flexibility of at-home work has enabled new members of the workforce to enter the customer service space.

The best fit

A well-trained associate or agent is suited for both simple and complex interactions, but the human touch is always needed for the latter. By the time a customer has reached an associate they may have already bypassed an IVR or chatbot, particularly if the situation is severe, and will want an answer as soon as possible.

In these emotionally charged situations, associates rely on powerful management tools and real-time insights from voice and text analytics to identify trending issues and customer sentiment. All the while the tools mentioned above handle simple, time-consuming tasks, that would eat away at an associate’s ability to focus on understanding and resolving the issue.

Humanity and technology, the best of both worlds

Effective contact centers equip associates with the right technology and tools to handle difficult situations. The key here is to ensure that each tool is connected to a complementary channel creating a symbiotic relationship. Nothing is more frustrating for a customer, for example, than feeling trapped by an IVR or chatbot and unable to speak with a live customer care associate.

Building an empathy-driven customer service organization means knowing that intelligent automation tools can empower the human touch for low- and high tier interactions.

Learn more

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5 ways to increase customer satisfaction using IVR: In this tips & takeaways guide, learn 5 ways contact centers can deploy meaningful IVR systems that go from zero to hero.

CX experts share chatbot mistakes (and remedies): Learn key takeaways for AI in this blog covering The CX Tipping Point event.

Outsourcing: Which shore is right for you: Explore this ebook to learn the benefits of recruiting talent across the globe.

4 work-from-home resiliency strategies for the contact center: These takeaways focus on the strategies needed to weather uncertainty and maintain a healthy work environment.