What Is an IVA? Upgrading from IVR to IVA

Traditional, cumbersome IVRs are evolving into fast, sophisticated bots

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What is an IVA? Why Upgrade to Intelligent Virtual Agent Technology
Contact CentreSpeech AnalyticsFive9Insights

Published: January 19, 2023

Charlie Mitchell

You’ve heard of the IVR system.

It is a foundational part of most contact centers and busy calling environments.

But what about intelligent virtual agents (IVAs)?

IVAs represent the future of call management, self-service support, and staff empowerment. They handle repetitive, straightforward actions on behalf of human agents, allowing business leaders to enhance customer experience.

We’re living in a world where companies and customers alike are increasingly comfortable with interactions involving bots and automated systems.

Virtual agents, powered by AI and natural language processing (NLP) technology, feel just as natural to engage with as a smart speaker or voice–activated assistant.

IVAs are key to augmenting customer service staff and unlocking better experiences for customers in the age of digital transformation.

What Is an IVA?

IVA technology is an evolution of the IVR system intended for routing calls and handling simple tasks.

Virtual agents use AI to power speech-or chat-enabled environments where customers can solve problems, complete payments, check balances, book appointments, and more.

Modern IVAs may also have natural conversations with customers and pull information from various contact center environments to fulfill requests.

Although IVA technology has gradually made its way into the modern business landscape, it has gained significant traction in recent years. The COVID pandemic pushed countless brands to accelerate their digital transformation strategies and embrace innovation to deal with increased service demands and new customer expectations.

The use of IVAs shot up by around 46 percent in 2020 alone.

Nevertheless, interest in IVA technology goes beyond post-pandemic demands. Indeed, many consumers have become accustomed to engaging with conversational AI via voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa.

The Benefits of IVA for Self–Service

Self-service is quickly gaining traction, as digitally savvy customers prefer to resolve service requests themselves before seeking assistance from human agents.

The trend is pushing forward the growth of IVAs, as one of the most valuable tools companies can harness to empower and enhance self-service operations.

In the past, self-service solutions were notoriously clunky and complicated technologies. Although some automated systems were available, it was often exceedingly difficult for any solution to fully understand and respond to each customer’s needs.

Nonetheless, even before the COVID pandemic, companies discovered that their customers preferred using self-service for various tasks.

After all, no business wants customers to wait in a 30-minute queue only to ask: where is my stuff?

Today, IVA solutions for self-service allow customers to quickly and easily find the information they need and complete tasks without waiting for assistance. These tools enhance and transform the customer journey.

When a customer needs live assistance, virtual agents can also pass on a transcript of the initial stages of the interaction, lowering the subsequent agent effort.

How Does IVA Technology Work?

The functionality of IVA solutions differs depending on the software and chosen use cases. However, vendors offer many of the same core capabilities.

Virtual agents use AI, speech recognition, and integrations with various backend systems, including the CRM, to engage with customers and complete service tasks.

Using a code-free, visual IVA development interface like the one offered by Five9, businesses can build virtual agents by dragging and dropping functionality into the interaction flow of your task.

Also, companies can start with pre-built task templates, like a credit card payment, appointment maker, or order lookup, and customize them to fit their needs.

Most cloud-based AI solutions will also integrate with technology at the heart of business operations.

An IVA solution integrated with your contact center could ask a customer what they needed help with today and then use NLP to respond to open-ended prompts. This allows the virtual agent to recognize keywords and phrases to push the customer forward with their purchase or self-service journey.

Once a virtual agent completes a task, like sharing a customer’s balance with them, it passes collected information from within the conversation back through the system for logging and reporting.

Suppose a call needs to be taken to the next level and delivered to a human assistant. In that case, the virtual agent can share contextual information from the interaction, ensuring customers do not have to repeat themselves.

The Evolution from IVR to IVA

An IVA allows businesses to automate more contacts through systems integrations, natural language technologies, and RPA.

As such, it frees up valuable time for human agents to focus on other complex customer concerns.

Moreover, because the technology never needs to rest or take holidays, it helps businesses to free up the staff to support customers with complex problems quicker.

Alongside the technologies noted previously, an IVA is an upgrade from an IVR in bringing together the following:

  • Speech Recognition: IVAs can understand human voices in more than 100 languages, responding to queries with text-to-speech technology.
  • Text–to–Speech: Using algorithms built into the contact center solution, an IVA can respond to all kinds of queries from your customers.
  • Voice Biometrics: With built-in voice biometrics, an IVA can enhance security strategies to verify callers and allow access to their account information.
  • Sentiment Analysis: IVAs often use sentiment analysis to identify frustrated tones in a customer’s voice and automatically route the call to an agent who smooths things over.
  • Intelligent Callback: An IVA can offer customers the option to request a callback rather than waiting on hold. The virtual agent then “waits” in the queue for the next available live agent and passes on context from the self-service interaction to prepare the live agent for the call.

In combining these capabilities, IVAs are sometimes indistinguishable from live agents when handling use cases like arranging payments over the phone or renewing subscriptions.

Why Is IVA Technology Essential Today?

IVA technology might seem futuristic, but it’s been around for quite some time. Only recently, however, has the technology become accessible to mid-market businesses. As a result, more companies are discovering the value of IVAs.

Spikes in call center demand are accelerating growth in this area, accelerated further by the COVID pandemic.

The pandemic in 2020 pushed consumers from all backgrounds to increase their digital activities, with around 56 percent of customers saying they plan to use self-service apps more often.

Customers are also rapidly discovering the value of self-service to resolve routine everyday support tasks. Around 70 percent say that they expect a company’s website to include a self-service solution, and 40 percent of consumers say that they prefer self-service over contact with a human.

Although it’s worth noting that virtual agents can never fully replace the empathy and human elements of talking to a person, they have many benefits to provide in their own right.

Finally, using IVA self-service in the age of post-pandemic customer experience paves the way for many further benefits. These include:

  • Time Savings: Customers save time resolving service issues, and agents may also handle issues quicker if the bot passes the customer’s intent to them.
  • Cost Savings: Companies can spend less money hiring employees to handle routine tasks, which an IVA could easily automate. They also free up live agents to focus on profit-building opportunities, where better service quality drives revenue.
  • Improved Routing: Customers often endure problems that an IVR cannot recognize. As such, they have to guess their way to the best-placed queue. More intelligent, an IVA can grasp the customer’s intent upfront and pass them to an appropriate agent, which limits transfers.

How to Transition from IVR to an IVA

In the past, upgrading from a traditional IVR system to a conversational voicebot was a complex task. Companies would build intelligent systems from scratch with developers and technical experts, requiring significant investments in both time and money.

However, as AI solutions have evolved, the tools required to create and implement voicebots are becoming increasingly accessible. Many CCaaS providers and contact center vendors offer no-code and low-code solutions, which allow companies to build bots with less effort.

Nevertheless, there are many steps to consider when transitioning from a standard IVR solution to an IVA. Here are the first three.

Step 1: Audit the Existing IVR and Routing Environment

The first step in transitioning from an IVR system to an IVA is auditing the existing contact center processes. Companies need a clear understanding of how their customers are currently routed to different agents when they call their contact center.

Auditing the existing IVR framework will give business leaders insight into the kind of customer journeys they’re trying to facilitate within their contact center.

Also, research will likely highlight specific pain points and frictions the business may want to overcome when choosing an IVA solution.

During the research phase of the transition, companies should gain a much clearer understanding of customer critical customer intents and the most skilled agents for handling those queries.

Step 2: Define Must-Have Features and Components

Once companies have audited their existing environment and defined the customer journeys they need to facilitate with their new voicebot, they can consider the most valuable components of their technology.

Most voicebot solutions come with built-in voice recognition software (ASR), as well as natural language processing and understanding components.

Nowadays, prominent vendors pre-train their IVAs to understand words from specific industries and customer conversations. Businesses can build on this knowledge by funnelling customer conversation data into the model.

Outside of the basic features, businesses may consider other “must-haves” for their voicebot implementation.

For instance, some tools come with voice-to-text technology, which allows for the rapid transcription and recording of data. Particular solutions also integrate with payment processing tools and other enterprise systems so that consumers can develop new use cases.

Step 3: Find the Right Voicebot Technology Vendor

Once business leaders clearly understand their IVA needs and the specific features they want to access within their voicebot, they can weigh up technology vendors.

Some contact center providers automatically offer access to customizable voice bots as part of their comprehensive technology portfolio.

Yet, use cases may expand beyond the boundaries of a contact center.

As such, companies planning on adding an external IVA to an existing technology stack will need to choose a solution that can work seamlessly with various other services.

Also, it is critical to pay close attention to the data an IVA collects, processes, and manages, ensuring compliance with the GDPR and other industry regulations.

The right vendor will offer access to various tools and resources designed to help business leaders build the ultimate bot, implement their technology quickly, and preserve data security.

The Era of IVA is Here

Automated self-service solutions are not always as effective as many hoped. Indeed, a Zendesk study shows that 60 percent of customers face frequent disappointment in their chatbot experiences.

Fortunately, even the most basic IVA deployments at the front end of the voice channel can deliver value through improved routing.

Upgrading to an IVA gives today’s companies the power to slowly transform voice experiences without spending a fortune on technology.

In the past, deploying speech-enabled and advanced virtual agents for the contact center was time-consuming, costly, and complicated. Businesses that deployed the technology would purchase a developer’s time and assistance to create custom applications from scratch.

Yet, thanks to modern cloud-based solutions and processes, it’s now possible to deploy AI-powered IVAs in days or weeks – rather than months.

The latest code-free platforms support non-technical business professionals in building and managing virtual agents. Moreover, pay-as-you-go pricing means companies only spend money on what they use.

No business can afford to overlook IVA today.

If you’re interested in discovering more about IVA technology, Rob Scott, Publisher at CX Today, and Callan Schebella, Senior VP & General Manager at Five9, discuss the IVA revolution and how it’s transforming customer experiences in this whitepaper.



Artificial IntelligenceAutomationChatbotsGenerative AISentiment AnalysisVirtual Agent

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