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Telephony is an important channel of communication with your customers. Even if you have a text based chatbot that can answer almost anything, we need to be realistic: there will always be people who want to call. As a consequence, you'll likely have quite the busy telephone line. This is why most enterprises implement some form of automation to streamline incoming calls: enter the Interactive Voice Response, or IVR system. In this article, I want to take a closer look at IVRs and voice VA's, or voice bots as their logical next "step in evolution".

Rather watch and listen to us explaining a little more about voice bots, first? No problem: check out episode 6 from our AI Trainer sessions below where our voice expert Martynas Cepkauskas explains how to make a voice bot using the boost platform.

From switchboard to automated routing

The study, conducted by Marita Skjuve from SINTEF, revolved around a bank that wanted to start using a voice bot to replace their traditional switchboard.

Despite having an IVR in place, many people calling the bank ended up in the general queue - the one you're routed to when you don't use any of the IVR options. There, they would have to phrase their question to a human, who would then route them to the correct queue. Far from efficient.

A voice bot would allow people to go straight to phrasing their question, skipping menus and needless queues, and get routed to the correct human afterwards - a much smoother experience. However, the bank wanted to make sure that using the voice bot instead would not negatively impact customers and, most importantly, what they would prefer: a human, an IVR, or a voice bot.

To find out, we invited 10 actual bank customers to partake in the study. One by one, they would visit the bank and complete three tasks with the voice bot. To do so, they were given a telephone number to call, and were told that they would be helped by a digital assistant. Marita, the researcher, was present the whole time. Afterwards, she interviewed the participants to ask them about the experience.

Expectations & experiences

All participants reported low prior expectations. They assumed they would have to repeat themselves a lot, and that they wouldn't really get any help or specific information.

This made their actual experience all the more surprising: most participants found that the voice bot was able to understand what they were asking for, and they didn't have to repeat themselves quite as often as they'd feared. In fact, they found the experience to be quite efficient and less stressful than calling a human.

One of the participants demonstrated this by hanging up on the voice bot halfway through a sentence - quite rude to do to a person, but as they explained later, a voice bot wouldn't mind if they hung up and called again.

Preferences: no to IVR

Of course, we also asked the million dollar question: compared to an IVR, and even compared to a human operator, would you prefer a voice bot?

From this, one thing became crystal clear: everyone expressed an intense dislike of the IVR system. IVRs, in the participants' experiences, are slow and cumbersome. Menu options are often unclear or there are simply too many, and the incentive to just not pick anything and wait for the human is very big. So compared to the IVR, everyone would choose the voice bot.

If participants imagined having to wait 5-10 minutes for a human to pick up the phone, everyone preferred getting the voice bot first.

Compared to a human operator, opinions were split. The voice bot was efficient, yes, but a human sometimes "just gets it better". Fair enough. However, as soon as we introduced waiting times, preferences shifted: if participants imagined having to wait 5-10 minutes for a human to pick up the phone, everyone preferred getting the voice bot first - as long as trying it didn't remove them from the queue for the human, just in case.

To voice or not to voice, is that the question?

Compared to IVRs, getting a voice bot is a no-brainer. It brings efficiency back to an otherwise cluttered telephone automation attempt. Even compared to speaking with a human, waiting lines can quickly become a sufficient motivation for anyone to at least try the voice bot.

So the question perhaps is not if, but rather when to start using voice. Have you already considered implementing a voice bot in your telephone lines? No worries if the answer is no: we have a great course to help you find exactly that: how to create values with voice bots. Check it out below!