All growing business experiences the following scenario at some point:
- A new advertisement or marketing has started generating attention,
- Potential customers start calling to learn more, and
- The current business owner/staff start spending more time on the phone than on other critical business functions.
The deluge of phone calls can often overwhelm small- and mid-sized businesses as they try to qualify new leads, or answer general inquiries while still trying to maintain service quality elsewhere. Some hire additional staff, while others rely on the phone company to provide additional lines to manage the workload – but these options carry significantly greater cost than automating inbound calls.
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An Interactive Voice Response System, or IVR, is the common automated menu system heard when customers call into medium or large sized businesses. Businesses can filter callers to specific people or work groups – such as sales or customer support – making inbound communications more efficient all around. Alternatively, some businesses use their IVR system to share pre-recorded answers to common questions, such as office hours or location info.
While your local phone company offers this service to business clients, the time and costs involved in creating your IVR system or making impromptu changes with this method (i.e. “We are closed for Labor Day”) can be steep since many require specific telephone handsets, call routing hardware or software licenses.
Savvy business owners have turned to hosted IVR systems, which provide the same features and functions on their existing telephones without requiring additional hardware or software. A hosted IVR system offers a business owner free and easy access to create, edit, and remove the menus or prompts – recordings the customer hears when calling the company – via web interface. This is especially useful for on-the-fly updates to customers, like a limited discount offer or an emergency office closure.
Hosted IVR systems also include turnkey addition of and edits to mailboxes on the web interface. Real estate listing services, for example, would use these virtual mailboxes to create MLS directories that connect buyers to recordings about specific properties – thus freeing up sales agents to follow up with the most serious prospects first.
Other directory services or referral networks add a direct inward dial number (DID) as a means to measure advertising effectiveness in different metropolitan areas, or to cater to local customer markets (i.e. pizza delivery services, community service groups, etc). These groups compare reports from the hosted IVR system against advertising campaigns to show which ads/number generated the greatest response.
Whether deployed to pre-screen callers, provide better service, or free staff from their phones, a hosted IVR is certainly an affordable, flexible way to test the waters of scaling a business.