Thursday, 15 October 2015

IVR (Auto-Attendant) - A Frill, Must Have, Or SMB Essential?

IVR stands for "Interactive Voice Response".  Whether or not you are familiar with this acronym, we have all encountered IVR's each time we call a company's customer service line for one reason or another.  You know the drill:  press 1 for sales, press 2 for marketing, press 3 for the parts dept., etc, etc.

The IVR feature is not typical of many low-cost BYOD DIY ITSP (Intenet Telephone Service Provider) VoIP services.  If they do, it is usually offered as an add-on service at extra cost.  Lucky for me, IVR is just another free feature offered by my primary low-cost DIY VoIP providers.

Typically, a VSP (VoIP Service Provider) that offers IVR features is focused on businesses, small and large. Their marketing is almost entirely focused on business users, and they only offer IVR and other features like "Time Conditions" and "Caller-Id Filtering" at premium prices along with all the other features that my BYOD DIY VoIP providers offer for free.

Now that I think of it, many services that offer IVR features for a premium will typically call it something like "Auto Attendant".  I guess when you give it a name like auto-attendant, it does sound a bit more high-end; kind of like having your own personal robot answer the phones for you...

So, just how do IVR's work with DIY VoIP services?

Here is how it works for me:

Once the IVR feature is configured and enabled, when a call comes in to the VoIP server, the call is routed to the IVR feature.  The IVR feature is configured by me, the user, to present voice announcement options to the caller.  The IVR announcements will prompt the caller to press a DTMF tone button on their telephone according to how they would like to have their call routed.

If a caller doesn't respond to the prompts within a few seconds, the IVR can be configured to repeat the options up to two or three times before hanging-up the call.  If the caller presses an invalid DTMF button option, the IVR will not accept the input and again repeat the options available.  After two or three incorrect input attempts, the IVR system will typically hang-up and disconnect the call.

My primary VoIP providers offer essentially the same routing options for IVR functions as they do with Caller-Id Filtering and Time Conditions, which I have discussed in previous articles.

In my case, it is just a matter of creating a new IVR function, deciding how many options I want to present to the caller, and then deciding how to route the caller based on the IVR option code selected.

The most common functions for IVR routing is for forwarding calls to an appropriate business department as offered by the IVR options:  1 for sales, 2 for marketing, 3 for parts, and 4 to get lost...

While, IVR's are typically associated with business purposes, it is possible to use them for individual BYOD DIY personal purposes, too.

Here are some options a DIY VoIP user could configure into their IVR feature:

Scenario 1

Press 1 to reach Jeff at home.
Press 2 to reach Jeff on his mobile phone.
Press 3 to leave Jeff a voice mail message.

In scenario 1, pressing 1 rings all my sub-account extensions at home.  This is because I have previously configured a "Ring Group" called "Home".

Pressing 2 "forwards" the call to my mobile phone.  It can do this because I have previously configured my account to use my mobile phone numbers as a Forwarding Option.

Pressing 3 immediately redirects the call to my main Voice Mail box.

Scenario 2

Press 1 to speak with Jack.
Press 2 to speak with Jill.
Press 3 to speak with Jack or Jill.
Press 4 to leave a voice mail for Jack.
Press 5 to leave a voice mail for Jill.
Press 6 to leave a voice mail for Jack and Jill.

In scenario 2:

Pressing 1 forwards the call to Jacks mobile phone.

Pressing 2 forwards the call to Jill's mobile phone.

Pressing 3 forwards the call to both Jack and Jill's mobile phones (a ring group).

Pressing 4 leaves a voice message in Jack's personal mail box.

Pressing 5 leaves a voice message in Jill's personal mail box.

Pressing 6 leaves a voice message in Jack and Jill's common mail box.

Of course, there are many variations on how one could use their IVR system to redirect calls according to how you want the IVR to handle them.

IVR's can be useful for VoIP DIY individuals and probably most useful to small businesses.

The question is:  does your VSP/ITSP provide these features for free along with all the other multitude of free features provided by some DIY VoIP providers, or do they charge a sizable premium for the privilege?  It pays to do your homework and shop around...