Directed Dialog or Natural Language: Is Conversational IVR Right for You?

Directed dialog or natural language. You may not understand those two terms, but chances are pretty good you’re already using one of them when communicating with your customers. They both describe a form of interactive voice response (IVR) system, but one creates a far more conversational IVR experience. Read through the comparison below and see just what you need to know about choosing a directed dialog or natural language option.

June 13, 2019

Value of Conversational IVR

One of the biggest hurdles companies face when interacting effectively with today’s evolving customers is supporting automated care that feels natural. This obstacle becomes especially pronounced when customers reach for the phone. They dial the number and expect to connect with an agent but get an IVR system instead. That’s where conversational IVR comes in.

Conversational IVR lets customers talk to your IVR in a more human-like way, as if they were having a conversation. That means the IVR doesn’t rely simply on button presses or pre-programmed responses. It opens the door to a much wider array of vocal inputs, but that of course makes the solution more complicated to develop, as well.

When customers expect an agent but hear an IVR answer instead, it can be disconcerting. But if the IVR is easy to use (in other words, given the proper forethought from developers), an automated, speech-recognition, self-service tool can create an interaction that’s sometimes easier and faster than talking to an agent.

So are you currently using conversational IVR? The descriptions below will help identify your IVR solution as directed dialog or natural language, as well as outline some benefits of each option.

What is Directed Dialog?

Directed dialog is an IVR format with a tree-like structure. Callers answer yes/no questions or speak pre-programmed responses to more the interaction forward. Directed dialog has been around for years and is still commonly used in IVRs.

For example, a directed dialog system could ask questions like:

  • “Do you want us to text you your password? Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.'”
  • “When would you like to start your utility service? Please say the month and day.”
  • “What would you like to do? You can say, ‘Pay my bill,’ ‘Get my balance,’ ‘Get a copy of my bill’ or ‘Billing questions.’”

Obviously, directed dialog limits the interaction to a few specific questions and answers, sometimes with a list of possible responses. This type of system works in situations with few potential customer responses. This type of IVR is also easy to create, but that’s about the end of the benefits. In the age of customer experience, directed dialog has been overshadowed by natural language IVRs.

What is Natural Language?

One of the biggest gripes customers have with IVR is the perception that a “robot” can’t solve their sophisticated issues. Or the caller doesn’t think his or her problem fits the IVR’s pre-programmed options. Natural language addresses these common concerns by letting the caller speak freely, as if speaking to a live person. Natural language processing uses AI to interpret whatever the customer says. So the IVR doesn’t have to hear the word “yes” to move the conversation forward. It could also hear responses like “yep,” “sure,” “ok” and “mmhmm” and get the same idea.

So a natural language system may ask any question, like:

  • “What would you like to do today?”
  • “How may we help you?”
  • “In a few words, please tell us the reason for your call.”

Callers may respond with full sentences, and the IVR will pick out the most important information and generate a helpful response. This system is perfect for situations with many possible responses, and it provides a more personal experience. It’s more complex to develop, but you may spend less time in the recording studio because you need to record fewer instructions (e.g., no need to record the phrase, “Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No'”). Natural language is the best option for most IVR systems today, but there is one more option we might as well bring up.

Directed Dialog or Natural Language

What is DTMF?

DTMF, or dual-tone multifrequency, is one of the oldest and still most commonly used IVR formats today. Also known as touchtone, a DTMF IVR doesn’t respond to voice prompts. Instead, customers must move the conversation forward by pressing buttons on their phone touchpad.

For example, a DTMF IVR may say something like:

  • “Press 1 for billing.”
  • “Please enter your eight-digit account number.”
  • “To speak with an agent, press 0.”

DTMF may lead to lower self-service rates and more agent transfers, but it still has its place in customer service calls. Pressing numbers is easy to understand. Customers may prefer to use the keypad to enter social security or credit card information. They may not feel comfortable speaking those numbers out loud in a crowded environment, like a coffee shop or at the office. Therefore, DTMF is best used in addition to natural language, so customers can choose the option they prefer.

Directed Dialog or Natural Language or DTMF

Download these tips to help ensure you roll out the best voice application for your business, or check out our comprehensive guide to building and optimizing the right automated voice solution.

Conversational IVR is the dream for many business professionals, and in many cases, it’s the right choice. But really think about what customers want from your customer service. And if you’d like some help, feel free to talk to an Intrado expert through our Contact Us page for a one-on-one discussion about your business.

Consider how a Directed Dialog or Natural Language or even a DTMF IVR can help you create the best possible customer experience and fully meet your customers’ needs.

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