Retail reporting

Reimagining IVR for retail

  • Jessica Palay
    Jessica Palay
  • Nov 18, 2019

 Insights and real-world examples to help businesses develop an IVR strategy suited for retail.

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Today, Interactive voice response (IVR) can do a whole lot more than just deflect calls. For retailers of all types, IVR can be a powerful tool throughout the customer lifecycle. Across sales, service, and marketing, retailers are using IVR systems as part of their overall personalization and engagement strategies to foster customer loyalty and grow share of wallet. Let’s explore some  insights and real-world examples to help you develop an IVR strategy suited for retail.

How to get more from IVR

The technology-driven shift in consumer expectations, behavior, and preferences that continues to disrupt the retail industry is also defining it. Retailers of all types are re-evaluating how to engage their customers, as the quality of customer experience is now a greater brand differentiator than the quality of a good or service. 

The best customer experiences are characterized by ease, convenience, and personalization. To achieve this, top retailers are leveraging AI to deliver personalized, omnichannel customer experience at-scale. As a technology that can be used across sales, service, and marketing, IVR can make an immediate impact on how your customer experience fosters greater loyalty and business growth. Unfortunately, legacy IVR systems can’t meet today’s standards for quality customer experience.

Some disadvantages of legacy IVRs:

  1. Slow. It takes months to set up your call network with a carrier.
  2. Expensive. You need to purchase hardware and set it up. 
  3. Inflexible and siloed. To change call flows, update a greeting, or add a language requires specialized, professional services.
  4. Impersonal. Greeting callers by name or routing calls based on a customer’s latest activity are simply impossible.

Here are the features of a modern IVR for retailers:

  • Flexible: You should be able to easily update and adjust the menu, messaging, and prompts of your IVR as often as you’d like. With an IVR system that you directly control, you can optimize the experience to suit your business as it changes over time. When designing your IVR experience, consider it an opportunity to also inject the unique personality of your brand with custom greetings. To maximize the ROI of your IVR, it should allow for A/B testing that can be used to make informed changes.
  • Omnichannel: A modern IVR isn’t limited to phone calls. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology, such as machine-learning applications, chatbots, or mobile messaging. Customers want to interact with brands on the channel of their choice. Your IVR should be able to seamlessly transition a conversation between chat, messaging, and live agents, picking up from where it left off. Communicating with customers from wherever they are is quickly becoming standard practice for companies of all sizes and industries.
  • Personalized with CRM integration: Greet your customers by name. Pull in context from your CRM to personalize the customer experience and route them appropriately. With intelligent routing, data within your CRM system is factored into matching a customer with the right representative and flow. A routing algorithm governed by a set of business rules accounts for a variety of customer context attributes, such as language preference, time zone, intent, and interaction history, and determines who is the most qualified person available with the necessary skills to properly handle a particular customer. Once the two are connected, your representative can access customer data and IVR conversation history, avoiding the need to repeat questions the customer has already answered.
  • AI-powered: To provide the best possible IVR experience to your customers, it needs to be able to understand what they want. Artificial intelligence (AI) helps businesses engage with larger numbers of customers without sacrificing the quality of the interaction. Using machine learning, you can train your IVR for natural language processing (NLP). This form of speech recognition lets you provide customers with a conversational experience that doesn’t require customers to learn how to use it. Rather than navigating through predetermined choices, customers can express why they’re contacting you in their own words. Your speech recognition software should be smart enough to automatically transfer customers to a live person if they request to speak with one, using words such as “agent” or “representative,” for example. AI adoption is steadily growing, By 2021, nearly one in six customer service interactions globally will be handled by AI*.

How retailers can use IVRs

With omnichannel and conversational capabilities, IVRs can be utilized throughout the customer lifecycle to ensure a fast, convenient, and personalized customer experience. Let’s dive deeper into how businesses are reaching more people, more quickly, and in more ways using the power of their IVR systems.

Customer service 

IVRs are most commonly associated with the contact center, allowing companies to automate and scale their customer support with self-service options that help manage high call volumes.

When requests for a live agent outpace availability, IVR systems can give callers the option of receiving a call back or switch to chat or SMS messaging from the next available agent, rather than wait in a queue. For retailers, an IVR system not only scales customer service but also connects online shoppers to brands’ local stores as needed to check if a particular item is in stock or to make an appointment, for example. 

Post-purchase, an omnichannel IVR with SMS messaging capabilities is useful for notifying customers when their order ships and when they can expect their delivery to arrive. Customer service has a direct impact on sales–94% of consumers say they will buy again when they have a simple, easy support experience**. 


IVR enables conversational commerce via various means of conversation, including voice assistants like Alexa, live chat on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and websites, and chatbots. Conversational commerce provides on-the-go convenience for consumers to purchase goods and services without toggling between multiple devices or channels.

When it comes time to process a customer’s payment, it’s important to note you will need to validate Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance. This includes systems you manage for your business, such as e-commerce servers, in-store payment terminals, and any mail order or telephone order acceptance channels. It also includes any partner systems such as payment service and telephony providers and service centers. Each of these carries its own intricate approach to scoping which data security requirements apply and are required to ensure PCI compliance. The easiest way for you to avoid the burden of PCI compliance is to partner with companies that are already PCI compliant to handle the payment card data on your behalf.


Proactive marketers know that when inbound calls occur, it’s a prime opportunity to promote a special offer, or deliver a custom marketing message while routing them to their requested destination. 

IVR systems are also being employed in integrated marketing campaigns by adding local IVR phone numbers to SMS messages, emails, and print advertisements. Customers can easily call to enter a contest, or redeem a promotion.

Marketers can use IVR-enabled surveys, following a recent transaction or interaction with your customer service department, to capture valuable customer feedback. IVR-enabled surveys are usually limited to just a few choice questions, with the most important question positioned early in the call to accommodate for customer drop-off. 

Since the IVR can capture the voice of the customer, another best practice is to ask open-ended questions as opposed to offering a menu of responses. However implemented, IVR-based surveys can be used to help your business adapt to your customers’ changing needs.

Using APIs to build your IVR

Most legacy IVR systems take an average of nine months for professional services to make even the smallest changes–making it difficult to experiment, iterate, and improve your IVR. 

For those using a SaaS solution, innovating an IVR’s capabilities is limited by a vendor’s own roadmap that determines when new capabilities become available–working around their timeline instead of your own.

That’s why leading brands are abandoning complex legacy systems and off-the-shelf IVRs and are instead building their own IVR systems using flexible, cloud-based application program interfaces. 

APIs are software building blocks that let you update your IVR on-demand with full control of your menu design and routing logic. With APIs, it’s easy to add and integrate new channels and embed machine learning to create an experience customized to your customers’ needs and suited to your business. Develop whatever kind of experience you want as soon as you decide you want to. 

Explore more about using APIs to transform retail experience.

For companies that do not have developer resources or want to get into production faster, there are visual builders that utilize drag-and-drop, rather than code. Using a visual interface to build a custom IVR system allows every department within a business—including non-technical users in product, marketing, support, and engineering teams—to design, build, scale, and A/B test IVR interaction flows. 

Start creating the IVR your customers want—pick up a free copy of our ebook, Reimaging IVR for retail, and learn:
  • Three approaches to a modern IVR
  • Features of a modern IVR for retailers
  • Business impact retailers see in modernizing their IVRs.

*Gartner Market Guide for Virtual Customer Assistants


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Jessica Palay

Jessica Palay

Jessica Palay is a Product Marketing Manager at Twilio for Programmable Voice.

Jessica holds a MSc. in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford where she examined how communities react, respond, and incorporate new technologies into their lives. This academic expertise, combined with her tech sales and marketing experience, makes her acutely attuned to how new communication technologies impact the way that people and businesses interact, transact, and form relationships.

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