It was in the early 2000s when interactive voice response (IVR) became popular. It all started with a touch-tone/voice hybrid, which was quite primitive back then. In this article, we will talk about IVR and how to use this technology to improve the voice user interface for your business.
What is IVR?
IVR provides a means of communication for many companies. The technology makes it possible for people to book flights, get stock quotes, transfer money, and receive traffic information. Think of it as the automated voice prompts when you call a hotline, but with a more engaging and interactive interface.
The IVR came about as a result of increased volume of calls received by businesses that wanted to devise a way to handle the increasing traffic of calls. Today, there are over 2.5 million IVR ports servicing businesses.
On the average, 15 percent of inbound calls use self-service menus. Soon, it gained market acceptance for solid and tangible business reasons.
Unfortunately, through the years, they received a bad reputation and greatly suffered from poor design.
The Role of IVRs
The purpose of IVRs were to automate tasks so customers would no longer have to talk to a real person. They came into existence before the Internet became popular and smartphones entered the market.
Today, they serve as the “ïnitial part” of a phone call that involves getting information before the caller speaks to an agent. They can help the customers with some important activities such as booking a flight. These systems can help connect a customer to the right agent.
In a mobile world, the ability to create a rich voice user interface (VUI) experience lies on how well the designer takes advantage of the visual capabilities of mobile. In a fast-moving business, VUI can be a powerful solution to better customer service. Voice user interface can boost customer satisfaction for the following reasons:
- Convenience: VUIs eliminate the need to follow a rigid structure. Callers can say what they want at a time they choose at a faster time.
- Natural: They can speak in a language they understand, making the system more acceptable to the user.
- Efficient: More tasks can be completed in a shorter time, thereby enhancing user productivity.
- User-Controlled: The next phase of the interaction depends on the voice of the user, eliminating the likelihood of getting lost in sub-menus.
- Interpersonal: Natural language is the mode of control and access, making it easier for the callers to understand the next step.
Design Strategies To Enhance Voice User Interface
Ensuring the effectiveness of mobile VUI lies on a wide range of design strategies:
1. Sample Dialogs
Sample dialogs provide a snapshot of the possible interaction between the user and the voice user interface. It is similar to a movie script, which depicts the back-and-forth interaction of the two main characters.
They not only design what the interface will say to the user but also the whole conversation. Designing prompts one at a time can result to stilted, repetitive, and unnatural sounding conversations.
While they are low technology, sample dialogs can be a powerful indicator of what the user experience will be like. The simplicity makes them easily understood by common folk. Fortunately, a lot of tools are available in the market for making sample dialogs.
After finishing the sample dialogs, you can rehearse the design by doing “table reading”, which means you can read it out loud with another person. Sample dialogs can be used for recording either by a voice talent or text to speech. Although they are more expensive than simply writing them, sample dialogs can be effective in gauging the effectiveness of your design before investing in a more expensive design.
2. Visual Mockups
Creating visual mockups is integral in the early stages of voice user interface creation. It can be used hand in hand with sample dialogs in the visualization of user experience. Together with sample dialogs, these design elements act as a storyboard. If the visual team is separate from the voice user interface team, they should be combined for the visual mockup.
After the sample dialogs have been written and reviewed, the next step in the process is sketching the flow of the voice user interface. Flows are illustrations that show the paths that will be taken by the VUI system. The level of detail will depend on the kind of VUI system you are designing.
An IVR is a closed conversation, and so the flow must indicate the possible branches the user can go to. The flow should list the different ways the user can be connected to the next state. This can be applied to simple states requiring a “yes” or “no” response, as well as to complicated ones that includes 1,000 possible song titles.
The flow should not enumerate every phrase that a user can say, but they must be grouped accordingly.
For open ended conversations, on the other hand, the flow can be divided according to the type of interaction. Examples for this may include calendar functions, calling/texting, search, and others. While not all possible interactions can be spelled out, the flow can be helpful to group the interactions according to various intents.
There are various flow tools that can be used for this such as yEd, Google Draw, Visio, and Omnigraffle, to name just a few. Storybuilding tools like Twine can also be helpful.
4. Prototyping Tools
Different voice user interface and NLU (Natural Language Understanding) tools are on the rise in the market these days. Examples of these tools include Tincan.AI, Wit.ai, Api.ai, Nuance Mix, and others.
The persona of the VUI system plays an important role in shaping the user experience as a whole. Landmarks inform the user at what stage of the dialogue they are in. They can help the user navigate the system, which in turn gives them an assurance that they are in the right place.
Landmarks are critical when there is a main menu and an accompanying sub-menu. This helps the caller to better understand the information being given to them. It will also help them easily monitor the amount of information they can expect from using any service.
Creating The Word Of Voice Prompts
Since the voice user interface is designed to perform a wide range of multiple functions, designing the voice prompt is one of the most important consideration of a designer. Soliciting information should always be satisfying for the user.
There are a lot of different ways to obtain user information. One can ask a question, offer choices from a menu, provide information, and keep the caller informed of what is happening at the time.
The wording of the voice prompt is governed by several general principles that are applicable to designing an effective voice user interface. Here are some recommendations when creating the words in recording your voice prompts:
1. Make Messages Short and Clear
Creating short and concise messages is better than using long ones that are more difficult for callers to understand and possibly make the experience a frustrating one. When creating the message, it is important for the voice script to be composed of spoken dialogue. Sentences that may have correct grammar on paper may not sound naturally when spoken.
2. Use The Imperative Politely
When using the imperative, do it in a polite way. The problem with verbs that are in the imperative is that they become a command. Imagine a voice prompt that sounds like someone from the military telling you to “Press 1 now!”
In order to make the prompt polite, add a “kind” intonation in the recording. This can help compensate for the directness of the imperative.
3. Consistency Matters
Throughout the dialogue, make sure there is consistency in the terms being used. Likewise, you should maintain the same style of language and formality.
4. Use Appropriate Keywords
Using the right keywords can help callers get directed to the proper department that will address their concern. This way, callers will get the valid vocabulary and will likely use it to respond to future messages.
5. Avoid Blaming The Caller
Use word messages that will never find fault in the caller. Even if the error is caused by a failure of the system to understand a spoken input or any process data that the caller supplied, never blame the caller for the mistake.
6. Sensible Context
Make sure that your prompts make sense in the context of immediately preceding messages as well as in the local help, fail and error messages.
7. Instructions and Order of Information
When giving instructions to the caller, make sure that they first know the response before prompting. This way, the caller will avoid responding before the message is finished. While this will not matter in implementing barge-in, this is still a good practice.
Voice user interface is essential in any fast-paced and evolving industry. Giving customers a pleasant experience when making calls is an effective way to keep them coming back to your business.