The question of whether the chatbot or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology is the future of customer service provision is regularly raised. Both are being used to increase the number of access points available to service users and move them away from the less efficient communication channels of the past. Both are powerful tools. But which is the future?
The battle between chatbots and IVR
Chatbots and IVR are typically pitted against each other because they’re perceived as incompatible. However, both streamline the customer service process by delegating those jobs that don’t require human labour to computers. Both are useful in a variety of contexts and are able to perform a variety of tasks. Both help improve efficiency and make the customer feel more valued by demonstrating that an organisation understands that their users’ time is valuable. Yes, they’re different technologies, but should they be thought of as in competition?
A false dichotomy?
The battle between chatbots and IVR could be thought of as a false dichotomy. Organisations do not need to make an either/or choice and make use of only one technology. Instead, the battle most organisations face is with proper implementation.
Both technologies have their advantages and disadvantages, and are better suited to different contexts and circumstances. Similarly, both can be poorly implemented in ways that negate their positive attributes. A chatbot or IVR system that isn’t well implemented is just as likely to turn off users as a long wait on the phone, or difficulties contacting human agents.
With proper implementation, Chatbots and IVR can (and should) be used simultaneously to form part of an effective channel shift strategy. For example, IVR can be used as an introduction to a Chatbot, or a Chatbot can pass enquirers on to IVR. In both cases, enquiry time can be improved and, with the right level of analytics, the impact can be closely monitored and reported on.
Encouraging use – the real fight?
For the public sector in particular, there are other pressing issues that need to be tackled alongside the chatbot vs IVR discussion. One of the key questions being asked by public sector organisations is how they can convince users that automated technologies are the solution to customer service issues.
Whereas private business are able to compel customers to use automated technologies by discontinuing alternatives, the public sector does not have this luxury. They have to consider cultural and societal attitudes, as well as the needs of a diverse population. Consequently, they cannot focus solely on the practical aspects of the technology and must consider how to encourage use and widespread adoption.
This cannot be achieved without the development of a strong relationship with the companies that create chatbot and IVR technologies. By working closely with such companies, public sector organisations have a better chance of implementing a tailored customer service process that utilises both chatbots and IVR, and avoids the pitfalls of poor implementation. Most importantly, the organisations will be able to develop a well-rounded strategy for increasing engagement.
The ‘chatbot or IVR’ question unnecessarily pits the two technologies against each other and frames the issue in a way that suggest the two cannot be used simultaneously. It also prevents more pressing issues from being resolved. Rather than posing an either/or question, organisations need to ask how they can implement these technologies in complementary ways and how they can encourage greater channel shift. Rather than expending energy and resources on an unnecessary debate about which technology is more powerful, the time could be spent on questions of implementation and adoption. Perhaps the most important question is not ‘chatbots or IVR?’ but ‘how do we encourage greater channel shift to these technologies?’