Innovating with IVR: A Duet between IVR and SMS Could Have Customers Singing Your Praises


Innovating with IVR: Text2IVRThis is the latest in our series on how to bring innovation to IVRs to deliver the customer experience that millennial minded consumers expect. Demand.

Just how much this kind of innovation is needed for IVRs was again brought home to me two weeks ago. Speaking at the Customer Response Summit in Austin, I put a question to the room. The audience was packed full of customer care executives and industry professionals: I tasked them to think of IVRs (not their own) that they interacted with and asked how many of them spent all their time in IVRs trying to figure out whether they had to press 0 or 9 to get out of the IVR and to live assistance. Everyone except one person raised their hands.

While this wasn’t a scientific survey, I think we can all agree that most IVR interactions leave us dissatisfied at best and frustrated at worst.

So let’s talk about the topic du jour – a capability that we call Text2IVR and which brings digital capabilities to the voice-only experience usually offered by IVRs.


Text2IVR in action

Supplementing an IVR interaction with digital channels like SMS sets up a win-win situation: the customer gets to complete a transaction fully or almost fully through self-service which makes them happy. And for the enterprise it converts an expensive assisted interaction to a self-service or at least shortens the duration of the live assistance. Which usually means lots of cost savings. And who doesn’t like those.

Let me explain how a Text2IVR interaction works: IVRs, despite advances in speech recognition, are not very good at handling alphanumeric inputs (e.g., addresses, customer names, alphanumeric order codes etc). So there are a lot of transactions where the IVR really just plays a routing role. The moment a menu option that needs one of these troublesome inputs is selected, the customer is forwarded to an agent. And the customer service agent usually proceeds to ask the customer to repeat themselves – a whole other source of pain which we will also tackle in a future post in this series!)

Even live assistance is an inefficient way of handling these inputs because for the most part the consumer has to spell out each letter of their name – I credit IVRs for my proficiency with phonetic tables (A for alpha, B for bravo etc). Let’s take the example of Laxman Shivaramakrishnan, an Indian cricketer in the eighties. Our research shows that the average individual calls customer service 65 times a year, which means, Laxman must’ve have spent at least a few hours of his life spelling his name out in the phonetic alphabet to hapless customer service agents. Now think of how long – and costly – that assisted interaction was simply because an IVR is not good at capturing alphanumeric data.

This is where supplementing the IVR session with SMS can be extremely effective. Let’s take the example of a utility customer changing a service address. If you call a typical utility IVR and select the “change service address” option, that call is immediately sent to live assistance. Instead with Text2IVR, the IVR provides the caller an option to receive an SMS on a mobile number, and reply to that text with their name, new address and other details that might be needed. Once those are provided the IVR can continue through the rest of the flow or forward to live assistance.

In either case, capturing name and address information would typically shave off minutes from a live agent interaction and lead to 60-70% cost savings on each avoided call.

For good measure, the case ID can be sent via SMS to the customer so that they are not forced to hunt for a pen to note it down and are more likely to have it available if they call back in. (I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I never have a pen handy and usually just pretend to note the case ID down out of politeness.) I, personally, would love to have this option in all IVRs.


There are major call dispositions in every major vertical that could be turned into self-service interactions with a Text2IVR capability: some examples that I’ve heard from the enterprises we work with include:

1. Where’s my order (WISMO) in retail, or the equivalent “What’s the status of my loan application” in financial services. At the conference in Austin, I had a VP of care of a luxury retailer talk about how WISMO queries (probably their number one call disposition) are handled by live agents because WISMO requires the customer to enter an alphanumeric order number which is complex to do with an IVR.

2. Similarly address change requests are often major reasons for calls in financial services, telecom and retail apart from utilities.

3. Store location requests though not as numerous in the voice channel, would still be better handled with IVRs with Text2IVR capability. In this case the IVR would text store addresses to customers versus reciting them using IVR TTS.

4. Completing collections in Financial Services, utilities, telecom and healthcare: Collections/Payments (provide alphanumeric loan or customer IDs).

5. Appointment lookups and changes in healthcare, utilities and telecom (to handle alphanumeric patient/customer iDs).

6. Completing Password change requests solely through IVRs. Would help any internal IT helpdesk. The employee can send In their employee ID via text and receive the unpronounceable and alphanumeric newly reset password in response. This would be more secure than a short, numeric OTP.

And some of these examples could then gradually be moved completely into an Interactive Text Response experience – the next generation of digital self-service.

We would love to hear from you about other examples where Text2IVR can help the IVR experience in your enterprise. Looking forward to your comments! And if you would like to brainstorm those together please email me at – with my name spelled out above.

Other posts in this series: