This article first appeared on the Ontario Systems Blog and is republished here with permission.

If you run a call center, a C2B business, a hospital, a government revenue center, or just want to provide excellent customer service, you need an Interactive Voice Response Unit (IVR). Yes, it is old technology. But in recent years, new functionality has made the IVR the hot new consumer communication tool for ARM, governments and healthcare providers.

The IVR first originated in the 1960’s and revolutionized the telephone industry. Keypad telephones were born from the IVR’s dual-tone, multi-frequency technology. And for almost 30 years, enhancements to the IVR technology beyond its use in keypad phones languished. Then came the 90’s.

During the computer technology boon of the 90’s, IVR solutions found a new purpose. The computer tech boom not only made IVR technology affordable, it mastered the integration of communication data and voice into one platform. Corporate America realized key pad technology could be used to interact with consumers for tasks other than dialing, today’s call center was born, and consumers and machines began to talk.

In recent years, the popularity of the IVR has skyrocketed. IVRs bring consumers and businesses together efficiently, systematically, accurately and are nothing less than technological problem solvers with seven must have functions:

  1. Providing Disclosures – In addition to welcoming the consumer to your organization, inbound IVR solutions can be used to provide legally required disclosures and secure the consumer’s receipt. For example, after disclosing the call is being recorded or explaining the caller has reached a debt collection agency and information provided will be used to collect such debt, use the IVR to prompt the consumer to press a key and acknowledge receipt. This will confirm your compliance with the law and the consumer’s receipt of the information.

  2. Directing the Right Party, Managing the Wrong – Callers come in many forms. Some are right parties and some are wrong. In either case, the goal is to assist the caller and direct him or her to the proper department or person. IVRs can provide right parties with access to representatives who can answer their questions, respond to their concerns and assist them with making payments. Similarly, IVRs can be used to direct wrong parties who were called in error or received a collection notice by mistake to a special team of trained representatives who can remove them from the data base and prevent future communications.

  3. Collecting Cell, Text and Voice Mail Message Consent and Revocation – If you manage a call center you need to manage consent to contact consumers on their cell phones using an autodialer, text messages and unattended messages. This means the IVR is your new best friend. After welcoming the calling party, use the IVR to request consent, confirm consent, record reassigned cell numbers, and manage and confirm revocation of consent. The integration of the IVR with the collection software application makes this a seamless process and is one of the best ways to ensure compliance with the TCPA.

  4. Managing E-Sign for Legal Documents and Disclosures – The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign) is the Federal law which legally establishes electronic records of contracts and documents as the functional equivalent of paper contacts and documents and which declares digitally created sounds and symbols expressed as a signature as the functional equivalent of a wet signature. The IVR has long been recognized as an E-Sign compliant process consumers may use to create and sign electronic records. It eliminates the need to mail paper contracts, agreements and payment plans to and from consumers for their signature and when properly integrated with the collection application, the IVR can populate letters and disclosures for delivery to consumers as required by law.

  5. Accepting Payments – IVRs are consumer friendly. Consumers who want to make payments appreciate the convenience of an IVR payment solution. Used properly, the IVR can fully automate the payment process and eliminate the need for consumers to speak with an agent. Single or recurring debit card and bank account transfers can be authorized as ACH transactions and single or recurring credit card payments can be scheduled. Best of all, the IVR solution is recognized as an E-sign compliant tool that can create the digital record of a preauthorized recurring funds transfers authorization and the requisite digital signature to meet the requirements of Reg E.

  6. Receiving complaints and disputes – If you are smart, you want consumers to call you with their concerns. You seek to collect debt from the right parties and do not wish to communicate with wrong parties. Yet, mistakes happen. Inbound callers should be provided with a simple, easily accessible opportunity to lodge a complaint, dispute a debt under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or file a direct dispute under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. A fully integrated IVR can respond to the consumer’s prompts regarding their complaint or dispute and launch the appropriate workflow to bring the matter to resolution.

  7. Managing Contact Information – One of the most overlooked functions of an IVR is contact information management. With increasing frequency courts are enforcing contract language which requires consumers to maintain communication with the creditor and ensure their name, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses are accurate and current throughout the term of the loan or extension of credit. Using an IVR, consumers can access your organization 24/7 and you in turn make it easy for them to update their contact information and comply with the terms of the credit agreement.

Advances in technology are continuing to enhance the functionality of the IVR. Three-channel conferencing, tone clamping, IVR to text or email communications are all on the horizon. It’s a big opportunity – When are you going to take a moment to seize it?

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