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What is IVR?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a telephony technology that allows users to interact with a database through phone keypad or voice commands. IVR automated systems save businesses money and employee resources, while making routine services and inquiries available to the public 24 hours a day.

Most people use interactive phone systems daily to do things like check bank balances, manage credit cards, check for store hours or locations, or order prescription medicine. Human interaction is not required because the IVR system only allows limited access to the database, though an option might exist to be switched to a live operator during business hours. The systems are also used to report non-emergency problems to cable or utility services and to schedule appointments with government or state offices, such as the Department Of Motor Vehicles. Integrating text-to-speech (TTS) functionality, IVR systems can deliver dynamic information as well, such as weather, news, traffic, or stock reports.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

Campaigns, pollsters and survey takers also make use of IVR systems. In these cases, the system places outgoing calls. A recorded voice asks questions and requests simple answers, like "yes," "no," or "undecided." Depending on the requirements of the application it might have very limited or extensive built-in voice recognition technology. Answers might also be directed through the phone's keypad, asking the responder to press 1 for yes and 2 for no, for example. IVR automation makes it possible to reach far more people than through actually manning phones.

Commonly, IVR systems are installed in-house, but there are also "outsourced solution providers," or OSPs. These providers maintain the system on their own premises, integrating it through the client's network. OSP solutions have advantages and disadvantages. Obvious advantages include avoiding installation of a new infrastructure and supplying staff to maintain the system. Disadvantages may include a feature-set or template that might not fit the company's business model as well as it would like, and surrendered control over critical functions.

Poorly designed IVR systems are often criticized by the public for not providing easy or helpful assistance. The goal of any system should be to get the customer what he or she needs in as few steps as possible while allowing for security and logistical needs. There are many systems available in a range of complexities, and solution providers can help companies match the right solution for their needs.

Discussion Comments


Thank you wiseGeek for explaining technology in common terms.


article was really helpful. I got what I was looking for. thank you very much.


Excellent article! Really useful. Thank you very much. Anish M.N.


I think wiseGeek is more down to earth on explaining the use of computer technology, such as Interactive voice response which we all are affiliated with. Now I know what IVR means. Thank you very much for your help.

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      Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone