Finding the Balance between IVR and Live-Agent Support

Let’s be real. The two primary reasons why companies use IVRs are to reduce operating expenses by minimizing the number of calls that require live agent support, and to provide service at times when no agents are available (which is also a way to provide customer service around the clock at minimal expense). This makes sense, as it costs approximately $0.05 to $0.25 to handle an inbound IVR inquiry vs. $5 to $25 dollars or more for a live-agent call.

IVR and speech recognition technology are excellent, and getting better all the time. When used properly and for the right purposes, phone-based self-service applications can automate a large percentage of calls. The challenge is to figure out how to use these solutions properly and to know which calls to target. Here are some guidelines to help you to find the right balance between live-agent and IVR-based support.

Do not use IVRs for inquiries that are fraught with emotion, such as situations involving fraud Offer IVR-based assistance for all routine inquiries about balances, payments, addresses, directions, etc.; offer the assistance of a sympathetic agent who can help a caller with an emotionally charged situation
Do not use IVRs when multiple and time-consuming levels of verification are required Use IVR when customers can quickly identify and verify themselves; depending upon the application, it might make sense to use the IVR to handle the first level of verification
Do not force customers who are not comfortable with voice automation to use an IVR Always give customers options; if it’s during business hours, make it easy for them to access agents; after hours, give them options – invite them to call back, leave a message or use the self-service application
Do not use IVRs for complex transactions Use live agent support when transactions involve many steps and are highly complex; however, it might make sense to use the IVR to verify a transaction or delivery date
Do not use IVRs for customers who are attrition risks Use live agent support to retain customers, as they can do a much better job than an automated application
Do not use IVRs for late-stage collections Use a collections specialist who can work with the customer to develop a payment plan


The simple rule is to use IVR or a speech-enabled IVR to automate activities that do not require a sympathetic ear, are not overly complicated, and where agents do not add value to a transaction. Also keep in mind that customer demographics are changing, and this will bring new opportunities to automate more activities. Millennials are more open to automation than baby boomers or the silent generation. Enterprises are encouraged to continuously review the performance of their IVR in order to broaden its capabilities and improve its performance. 

Donna Fluss is the founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, the leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis and consulting. She is the author of The Real-Time Contact Center, the Contact Center Executive and Management Briefing, the Contact Center QA Guide, the PC-DSS Guide, and many other leading industry reports on contact center hosting, UC, dialing, IVR, speech analytics, performance management, workforce management, surveying, QA/recording and contact center analytics. Contact Donna at