Enterprises, government agencies and other organizations understand how hosted IVR systems automate calls to reduce support costs. They also understand the importance of inquiring about capacity, uptime and technical features when composing an RFP for a hosted IVR solution. But even the savviest of organizations overlook critical questions that can ensure they select the hosted IVR vendor that will help them stay current into the future, that truly differentiates them from their competition, and most importantly, that improves their customer self-service.

1) What percentage of calls on your hosted platform use natural language understanding? Having the capabilities to deliver conversational IVR is critical in today’s market. Most RFPs ask whether the prospective platform supports speech recognition and natural language understanding, but don’t seek to understand how well. By inquiring about percentages, organizations can probe deeper to determine whether the prospective vendor has extensive experience with natural language understanding, including in high-volume situations.

2) Describe the platform’s features that extend IVR self-service to smartphones and feature phones. Cite at least three examples of customers benefiting from those features. Depending on industry, up to 80 percent of contact center calls originate from a mobile phone. This question ensures that the prospective vendor has proven capabilities extending features, capabilities, and investments in IVR self-service to mobile callers.

3) In [insert your industry], what is the average automation improvement rate for customers after they’ve migrated to your platform? Describe how those improvements were achieved. The goal of implementing an IVR is to reduce costs through automation and accurate call routing, but not at the expense of the calling experience. That’s a delicate balance, which is why it’s important for the prospective vendor to show that it has the reporting/analytics tools, innovative features, as well as the expertise necessary to help its customers achieve optimal self-service rates. Industry-specific examples demonstrate that the vendor has experience meeting the unique needs of an industry.

4) Describe the unique features or services that your platform provides that enable your clients to deliver an improved and differentiated caller experience. Provide at least three real-world examples.  Many hosted IVR vendors simply provide a collection of technologies. This question verifies that the prospective vendor has unique capabilities and helps their customers combine them in a way that meets each customer’s distinctive requirements for differentiating themselves in their market.

5) Provide three recent examples of new features to your hosted platform. How many calls are being processed using the feature?  Cite example benefits for at least one customer for each feature. One reason why organizations increasingly prefer hosted IVR solutions is because they get access to the latest and greatest technologies fast- increasing savings.  A new version of a speech recognizer, for example, typically reduces errors by more than 30 percent, critical in improving both economics and experience.  This question verifies that the prospective vendor’s hosted clients are not only provides access to innovative features, but also how those features are used by clients. This question also provides insights into the vendor’s recent track record of developing innovative new features that enable its clients to stay ahead of the competition.

The strategy behind all five questions is not to simply ask whether a particular technology is supported. Instead, require prospective vendors to quantify business benefits, provide real-world examples and detail how they’ll help your organization use those technologies to improve customer loyalty and minimize support costs. In the end, you’ll have a far better understanding of the depth and breadth of their experience. Considering that it’s your business at stake, that’s not too much to ask for.

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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.