People hate talking to Bionic Betty. The IVR has become something that is universally disliked.

Still, it has a future, and here’s why.

When IVR systems first came into being, the costs to implement such a thing were astronomical. In order to justify the massive capital outlay such projects required, the ROI was often calculated in part by how many empolyees would be replaced. While this made it easier to justify the price, what it failed to take into account was the annoyance that callers would experience having to use the 12 buttons on their telephone to interact with a computer. People hated it. Terms like “voice mail jail” became part of the vernacular.

The power of IVR, however, has yet to be fully realized. Why? Because up until now, it has never been cost effective to deploy it in simple situations, solving simple problems. IVR should never have been used to replace humans, but rather to create value for customers. Due to the prohibitive cost, that didn’t happen. Now, it can.

Joel Sisko and I were having a conversation about this earlier today, and he sold me on the fact that the new world of open source telecom means that IVR systems can now be deployed in ways that people might actually enjoy using. An example of this is: when you call your favourite pizza joint to order some pie, the system will say “if you would like the exact same order as last time, press 1 …”. Does this bother you? I’ll bet it does not. If they gave you 15 choices to navigate though, it would be frustrating. If they keep it simple, it is pleasant, useful, and saves you time. Previously only the large pizza purveyors could offer such a service. Now? Much smaller enterprises can afford to access the same technology.

The point here is that becuase an IVR can now be deployed very inexpensively, it becomes feasible to design simple systems that have only one simple job to do, rather than a massively complicated system that has to justify it’s enormous price tag by attempting to be all things to all people, which only ends up annoying everyone.

The ultimate IVR system would only have one choice. “press any key to …”, and that’s it.

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