When merchants and other organizations strategize a brand makeover, their interactive voice response (IVR) system is often left out of the mix. With the IVR serving as the front door to the contact center and making an impression on millions of customers every year, that’s a mistake. Evidence shows that the IVR can play a powerful role in defining an organization’s brand.

Just ask US Airways. The airline went through several mergers and acquisitions over the years, and one byproduct was a hodge-podge of automated voice systems that wasn’t in alignment with the US Airways brand promise and was not adequately serving their customers. In 2011, US Airways determined that replacing the old systems with a single, cloud-based IVR solution would not only significantly reduce its customer service costs while enabling a wider range of support options – it would be a critical tool for reinforcing its brand.

US Airways smartly saw the new IVR as a fundamental component of its corporate rebranding initiative, which sought to improve market perception and strengthen customer loyalty. They know that many consumers and business travelers prefer self-service, perceiving it to be faster. US Airways found that a next-generation IVR system, with support for natural language speech recognition, allows their callers to speak naturally to the system to quickly get the information they need.

“The more we know about our customers and the reason for their calls, the more efficiently we can provide the assistance they need and allow them to get on with their day,” says Kerry Hester, US Airways senior vice president for operations planning and support at US Airways. “By integrating those insights with cutting-edge speech recognition technology, we are providing our customers with the convenient, quality care they have come to expect from US Airways.”

One Platform, One Persona, Multiple Channels

When elevating a brand, an IVR system can play a key role in establishing and maintaining an organization’s persona across all of the customer-interaction channels. When they begin to realize the savings and customer satisfaction gains provided by IVR technologies such as natural language and biometric authentication, enterprises quickly realize the need to extend those same solutions to their mobile applications. That’s because for most organizations, between 50 and 80 percent of customer service calls originate from a mobile phone and analysts predict that by 2014, mobile Internet usage will surpass desktop usage.

Skyrocketing smartphone adoption will mean more people are using mobile apps to interact with businesses. Still, most dislike the chore of pecking out account numbers, passwords and other information even on the friendliest smartphones. By extending technologies such as voice biometrics and natural language that have successfully used in IVR for over a decade, organizations can provide their customers with friendlier, hassle-free mobile apps while positively impacting brand image.

Another trend is driving the movement to employ speech within mobile app. Smartphone apps such as Siri on the iPhone and Samsung’s new S Voice are rapidly making consumers and business users comfortable with the concept of asking a device – rather than a live agent – for information. Hosted multi-channel IVR systems that support both phone and mobile apps enable organizations to leverage that familiarity by making it fast and affordable to extend these same conversational interactions across IVR and mobile apps.

When designed correctly, an IVR system can be a great way to establish a consistent organizational “persona” across the phone and mobile app. For example, organizations can work with their IVR provider to select the voice that best represents their brand’s persona. US Airways auditioned a variety of voice talent and used focus groups to select the voice that the target demographics said best conveyed the airline’s brand attributes. The top choice – “Wally” – quickly became a key part of US Airways’ brand identity. So much so that Wally even introduced the airline’s Q2 2011 earnings call.

The unique sound of Wally’s voice isn’t the only IVR attribute that helps define US Airways’ persona. The airline also chose an IVR solution that dynamically combines pre-recorded audio prompts with computer-generated speech in a whole new way, creating the most natural voice experience imaginable. This technology innovation provides a listening experience that’s so natural and pleasant that it truly differentiate the US Airways IVR system from other organizations’ self-service IVRs.

Of course, sometimes a live agent is the best way to serve a customer. Aside from getting callers to the right agent fast, sophisticated natural language system can enhance even an agent interaction. For example, US Airways’ IVR system minimizes call durations by asking for answers to series of relevant questions and then automatically types the callers’ responses onto the agent’s screens when the caller is connected. One US Airways customer posted on FlyerTalk, an interactive online community for frequent flyers: “The time previously spent on hold is now used by the computers to pull up your records. I’m going to call it a win.”

US Airways’ success illustrates the benefits of making an IVR the foundation for a unified strategy for branding, marketing and customer service initiatives. After all, an IVR often is the primary way that people interact with many customer service organizations, so it’s an ideal way to make a favorable first and lasting impression.

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.