Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What do IVR Systems Have to Do with the Election?

A polling company has recently instated automated IVR calling to predict the outcome of the election. The concerns raised by the recent changes showcase some of the prevalent suspicions regarding IVR technology. Read an article on the move to IVR polling here.

The article cites George Bishop, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, who highlights common concerns regarding IVR:
What if you don't understand the question? There's no opportunity for clarification. There's also no one there to probe you to answer the question if the person isn't sure.

Bishop’s statement reflects a skepticism regarding the usability of IVR systems. He betrays the same preference for human agents that call centers often see in their callers. The same issues with respect to usability and system intelligence often return in discussion regarding voice recognition software systems. Still, the issue is not whether or not IVR is the best method for election polling. The issue surrounds how to build a voice recognition system that fits the bill. For example, there needs to be proper testing to ensure the IVR interface is tailored to the needs of its users. A good IVR system accounts for potential deviations from the script and is tailored to the expectations of callers. This can only be accomplished with usability testing. In addition to usability testing, system monitoring is often needed. Election polling is only implemented for a matter of days; but organizations that implement ongoing IVR systems require constant post-deployment monitoring to ensure that users are continually provided the best and most efficient service. The context of how the IVR system is used must be taken into consideration, with the expectations and mental model of users being considered. Of course companies want to maximize the ROI of an IVR project, and initial ROI analysis ensures that a voice recognition software project will yield the expected outcome.

So how to respond to the concerns raised by Bishop? Again, it’s a matter of having a customized IVR system that has been properly designed, tested, piloted, and tuned. Whether the IVR uses speech recognition software or responds to touch-tone dialing, the system needs to be tailored to the needs of the respondent to ensure optimal functioning. Proper usability research and testing reduces any concern over understanding the question.