Interactive Voice Response (IVR) explained
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is the automated technology allowing interaction with a human caller by way of DTMF input (Dual-tone multi-frequency).
In today's business world, IVR systems are used by almost all industries and their respective applications like banking, insurance, utilities, telecom, travel, and retail to process a customer's phone call, rather than connecting to an actual person.
Through interactive voice response software, the end user selects suitable options through a variety of pre-recorded menus and sub-menus, following a carefully crafted and optimized call flow. If the user is unable to find a suitable resolution, only then is there a provision to transfer the call to a live agent.
IVR testing and integration
Many large organizations have experimented with speech based IVR in the hope of providing customers with a superior user experience, whilst attempting to avoid hiring additional customer service personnel.
With older technology this can be challenging however, for example, if there was background noise, or if the IVR system didn’t recognize the caller’s language or accent.
Even though technology has vastly improved, some organizations still rely on old-fashioned software and haven’t kept pace with developments in artificial intelligence (AI) software. This results in a less than satisfactory user experience, frustration, loss of sales and/or customers and creates a negative impact on an organization’s bottom line.
While some organizations rely on a hybrid environment, where they retain some of the hardware and software on premise and have moved part of their solution to the cloud. Testing a hybrid environment provides an outside in look at customer experience across both parts of the solution.
The solution? Better IVR testing and integration.
IVR testing is when a customer tests its IVR system and infrastructure with a defined amount of traffic to document performance of the solution under load. Coming into a busy period, like January sales for retailers or end of year for financials, customers need to be sure their systems can handle the expected additional volume of traffic and testing is one way to ensure they are ready.
IVRs can have fail points in various areas and there are different tests for the main culprits. Load testing and stress testing are the most common types of tests, but let's look at all the different types of IVR testing a business should be carrying out.
What is IVR load testing?
IVR systems live within a complex environment – PSTN access, sophisticated call routing and processing algorithms, database interactions and network connectivity. Load testing is a process where real telephone calls are launched through the PSTN to access and exercise the IVR applications and the environment at expected traffic volumes. Best practice is to gradually increase call flows to expected levels.
For example, you might start with a hundred simultaneous calls to see how the system responds, gradually increasing to peak capacity, while plateauing at predefined levels along the way up to full expected load.
Tracking performance metrics allows you to confirm the entire environment works as expected, meaning CPU and memory consumption don't go out of range, response times stay within acceptable ranges and network occupancy levels stay in the safe zone.
If call flow tolerances are less than expected, then some solutions might include increasing bandwidth, server capacity or any other measure to eliminate bottlenecks.
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What is IVR stress testing?
Stress testing works in much the same way in as it also relates to IVR call flows. Sometimes known as peak traffic testing, IVR stress testing confirms IVR systems have in fact been built to endure extreme traffic levels as measured in two ways – maximum number of concurrent calls and maximum call arrival & teardown rate.
The focus of this test is to determine if the systems can handle periods of high demand well above normal levels.
The important thing with a peak traffic test, it needs to be actual outside-in traffic accessing and exercising all the elements in the public telephone network, in addition to what goes through the internal network.
Testing tools like StressTest™ load/performance testing remotely generates Virtual Customer® voice calls to interact with your solution just like real customers. Whether they're voice or web interactions, the peak traffic loads generated should be an accurate representation of anticipated real-world peak call flow, so your teams can have confidence your system will operate as intended even in those real-world high load situations.
What is IVR soak testing?
Soak testing verifies a system's stability and performance characteristics over an extended period. A typical soak test, for example might involve creating an influx of hundreds of calls per hour over a period of up to 24 hours. This type of IVR test runs the system at full load, at the rate you expect it to run in production before “going live”.
Soak tests are crucial because often underlying issues such as memory leaks might not emerge immediately.
What is IVR feature testing?
IVR feature testing confirms the IVR system does what it claims to do and is consistent with the design, typically a Voice User Interface (VUI) or Visio flowchart. For example, when a customer calls to get assistance with a particular problem, they're presented with an IVR system telling them, through menu options, to say or enter a specific number corresponding to their inquiry.
When a complete “dialog traversal” is executed, every possible scenario or route through the IVR is called. If an IVR menu only offers options 1, 2, and 3, a comprehensive test also confirms the IVR responds appropriately if the caller enters 4 through 9, 0, *, #, or even no input at all.
Comprehensive feature testing is a requirement for any new IVR application, and many companies also validate every possibility whenever they make any changes in their IVR system.
An automated feature testing process is far more effective and efficient than manual testing. Automated testing enables more frequent application releases which are fully vetted before customer traffic hits them.
What is IVR experience testing?
Experience testing refers to 24/7 testing of the customer experience being delivered by IVR systems. Think of it as an automated secret shopper. Test calls are made at regular intervals to ensure everything is working correctly all the time.
Testing tools like HeartBeat™ experience testing perform ongoing testing of the availability, functionality, and performance of the IVR system and its supporting infrastructure. Critical customer facing IVR system application functionality should be tested every 5 or 10 minutes with alerts generated immediately when issues are identified.
What is IVR spike testing?
Spike testing is similar to stress testing but more intense. Spike testing is when a burst of traffic is launched to the customer solution going above and beyond what it is designed to handle. This identifies how the system deals with a big spike in traffic as might happen to a high-availability architecture if there are problems in the network, or if a server goes down.
Companies want to find out if their system will fall over, gracefully degrade, or continue humming along. It often identifies ripple effects and is critical in IP environments.
What is IVR regression testing?
IVR regression testing is a type of analysis checking IVR systems to verify performing as expected following the addition of a third-party application or integration. All too often, updates and integrations can prompt an issue in an IVR system, causing it to work differently and thereby affecting the customer experience.
Regression testing provides businesses with critical information about the current status of their IVR system architecture to ensure end users continue to have the best possible experience.
IVR testing scenarios
When it comes to speech recognition technology, there's always the chance of glitches, even though the technology itself has come a long way in the last few years. Voice call quality, fraud, call routing, accent and pronunciation, call security and workflow are all areas IVR testing can address.
- Verification: The chance of fraud is ever-present in the digital world, which is why it's vital to test IVR application, making sure it is not compromised or vulnerable. The IVR application will always verify a caller by asking security questions like date of birth, secret words known only to the user, and other relevant information to verify the caller's identity.
- Call transfer or routing: Speech recognition can only do so much, and not all caller inquiries or problems can be resolved by an IVR system. When a call needs to be transferred to an agent or a different department, it's important to test whether it's going to the right area. For example, credit card payments, and details are security sensitive, and need to be handled in the correct area.
- Call retry option: Sometimes a caller is not able to recognize or follow a message or prompt. The IVR system should have the facility to repeat the prompt a predetermined number of times before disconnecting or transferring the caller to an agent.
- Accent and pronunciation: When a caller first interacts with an IVR or speech recognition system, the system should identify accent markers and automatically adjust to the right accent profile.
- Correct language: In this global market, it's important IVR automation encompasses a broad selection of languages and can be tested properly to ensure they work with all users.
- IVR workflow: In-depth testing is needed for all end flows in the system, and it's crucial to validate all prompts are related to the correct flow. All too often a customer is misdirected and ends up hearing prompts unrelated to their initial inquiry. For example, if a caller has lost a credit card or wants to report a debit or credit card stolen, this is time-sensitive and serious. The IVR needs to play the prompt related to this issue so it can be resolved quickly, or risk serious ramifications.
Why you should use automatic IVR testing
Carrying out IVR system tests manually just isn't practical in the real world. Recruiting thousands of volunteers or even paying people to stress test their system would be difficult to co-ordinate, time consuming and cost prohibitive. This is why it makes far more sense to use automatic IVR testing tools like Collaborate HeartBeat and Collaborate StressTest.
The great thing about a software application is it can make one IVR call, or as many as required to carry out the test. These tools scale infinitely, and reduce the need for human labor, while providing accurate analytics and valuable IVR system information. The software application can call up your services as often as you need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
With the right tools in place, automatic testing helps to give IVR systems managers peace of mind, with feedback confirming every voice call is being dealt with as it should, and the customer IVR experience is the best it can be.