Should You Build a Virtual AI Assistant, or just a well-designed, Speech-Enabled IVR?

June 16, 2022 // Product

Customer expectations have evolved as technology has brought the world to their fingertips. The days of it being acceptable for a business to be open 9-5 are long gone. We now assume companies should be available 24/7/365 by phone for all customer service and most self-service activities. If your business is unavailable, or callers find themselves mired in an archaic IVR with no hope of finding the answer they’re looking for, you are missing out on potential sales or great customer service experiences.

Speech-Enabled IVR and Virtual AI Assistants are the sexy new tools that organizations are implementing in order to solve complex human and technological resource issues.

Before you jump headlong into committing the time and resources to building Virtual AI Assistant, we find it helpful to assess what the ideal solution would be depending on your business and customer needs.

The Basic Benefits – Multitasking & Scalability

What are the most annoying things about calling a business? Never-ending wait times and being put on hold. Understaffed and undertrained customer support teams coupled with the time it takes an agent to manually look up information are efficiency and customer experience killers. Voice automation solves this through scalability and automating repetitive tasks. Rather than attending to one caller at a time, IVRs are able to handle thousands of queries at the same time.

Deploying an IVR delivers immediate operational cost savings. The question comes down to what type of voice automation makes the most sense for your business.

When Does A Virtual AI Assistant Make Sense?

There are many benefits to a Virtual AI Assistant. The tech enables:

  • Simplified front-line customer and sales support
  • Faster resolution of transaction disputes and emerging customer issues
  • Creation of hyper-personalized customer support and sales experiences

Building a Virtual AI Assistant makes sense when you also have a dedicated team of developers who can devote ample amounts of time to maintaining and improving the system. Just because AI applications come with the promise of self-improvement, every developer knows that there is a tremendous amount of human interaction involved. We haven’t unleashed Skynet just yet.

How About An Intelligently-Designed IVR?

An intelligently-designed Speech-Enabled IVR can accomplish nearly all of the above, at a financial and human resource cost that won’t deplete the bank — and give your CFO a heart attack. When you don’t actually need a conversational experience, you can build an effective IVR that improves operational efficiency and customer experiences.

In the design world, there is a concept known as the “well-lit path”., a Google project, has published extensive guidelines on how to successfully design apps, websites and software. Although an IVR using speech recognition is a completely different form, the same concepts can be used to quickly route callers to their desired data or transaction. Instead of big helpful buttons that shake or shimmy, you can lead callers to the correct destination by listing the most relevant menu options based on information you have about the caller, the time of day, etc.

For example, a well-designed healthcare IVR may retrieve information linked to the caller, and instead of forcing the caller listen to this:

  • If you are calling to speak with an advice nurse, press “1”;
  • If you are calling to get the status of recent test results, press “2”;
  • If you are calling to renew a prescription, press “3”;
  • If you are calling to book an appointment, press “4”;
  • If you are calling to cancel or reschedule an appointment, press “5”;
  • For all other inquiries, press “6”.

You could just say:

  • Are you calling about your appointment tomorrow at 11:20am? Say “Yes” or “No”.

The potential “speed” of an AI-powered chatbot may be meaningless, or have marginal impact at best, on the CX compared to a thoughtfully designed IVR. And it is far easier and less resource-dependent to build and maintain.

For government agencies, Speech-Enabled IVR is an efficient and customer-friendly way to provide status updates for payments, waiting lists, applications, and social services information.

The same principles can be applied to the hospitality industry, retail, and financial services (to name a few).


AI-powered Virtual Assistants will be a wonderful thing in the future. For now, they are solid investments for businesses that have the teams and resources available to build and maintain the sophisticated code required.

In a vast majority of use cases, a well-designed Speech-Enabled IVR delivers the sales, customer service, and operational outcomes you are looking for at a much lower technical and resource-dependent cost.

Whether you are looking to build a cutting-edge Virtual AI Assistant, or design a brilliant IVR with speech recognition, we’ve got the communication tools you need.

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