What Is IVR Testing And Why Is It So Critical To Your Business?

IVR or “interactive voice response” is a Digital Channel tool that companies have been using for many decades. Customers call the firm’s hotlines on the telephone and then either type or speak verbal instructions into their receivers.

IVR speech recognition systems of old, however, were clunky. Users had to speak clearly and in acceptable accents. If they didn’t, they get the canonical “sorry; I didn’t quite get that: please could you state your response again?” – all in an annoying, sterile, computerized voice. 

With the machine learning revolution, however, voice recognition systems have moved on leaps and bounds. The fundamental nature of IVR technology has progressed from the expert systems of ode to something far more generalizable. 

Unfortunately, some companies’ IVR systems haven’t kept pace with developments in artificial intelligence software. They still rely on old-fashioned software, even when the rest of the software universe has moved on enormously. It’s a tragedy, and it’s ruining the customer experience. 

The solution is to this puzzle is better IVR testing and integration.

The Current Problems Facing Companies Wanting To Use IVR

IVR technology might be more than thirty years old, but it’s going through something of a renaissance. 

Twenty years ago, the technology just wasn’t there for speech recognition. Many large corporations experimented with speech-based IVR, hoping to provide their customers with a superior experience, all while trying to avoid the need to hire legions of customer service reps. They discovered, however, that the old technology didn’t work well if there was noise in the background, or the caller had a cold. It just wasn’t flexible enough. 

The other IVR issue facing companies is integration. Landline phone services are hardly the only channels customers use to communicate with companies anymore – the internet and mobile are now both major players. What’s more, the universe of software that requires integration has exploded, with voice self-service environments now having to include VUI, text-to-speech, visual IVR, and voice-enabled artificial intelligence. 

Integration, of course, isn’t easy, and most organizations aren’t sure how to update their legacy IVR to make it compatible with their new systems. This has led to a variety of downstream issues, including increased difficulty testing, leading to stagnation. It’s a big problem, especially when there’s so much untapped value left on the table. 

Changes in the fundamental underlying technology, however, now means that IVR solutions are improving. Systems are getting much better at recognizing words and sentences, opening up a host of new use cases. The market was worth $3.7 billion in 2017 and will rise to more than $6.6 billion by 2025, according to Market Watch.

The Importance Of Comprehensive IVR Testing

IVR solutions don’t exist in isolation. They’re often part of a much larger nexus of digital capabilities and need to work seamlessly together to provide a pleasant customer experience. Finding out whether or not they do, though, can be a significant challenge. Companies hook up IVRs to call routing systems, database search, and PSTN access, all complicating matters enormously. 

Firms, therefore, need robust tools that allow them to test their IVR solutions independently across a range of environments and domains. While stress testing is essential, there are a host of other factors to consider. 

Testing must also be regular to ensure that they continue to serve customers well and don’t become the weak link in the client experience. 

Types Of IVR Testing

Over the years, organizations have developed several IVR testing methods. Here are some of the most popular in use today. 

IVR Load Testing

IVR load testing is designed to test whether IVR systems have sufficient processing power to manage the typical loads that they might experience during regular use. Companies make calls through their regular public switched telephone network to see if they experience issues as they increase volume. 

A firm, for instance, might start with a dozen or so simultaneous calls to see how the system responds. It could then increase the number from there, perhaps to thousands of concurrent callers. While it does this, it tracks performance metrics of the underlying computer software that lets the whole system work, monitoring things like RAM usage and CPU utilization. These readouts tell engineers how close regular predicted use comes to overloading the network. If tolerances are tight, then the solution is to increase bandwidth, server capacity, or whatever else will eliminate the bottleneck. 

IVR Stress Testing

Stress testing works in much the same way as load testing, but with a slightly different emphasis. Just as before, the test involves routing calls through the PSTN, as regular customers might under normal operation. But the difference is that in this case, the test is to see whether the systems can handle periods of high demand well above normal levels. 

Testers arrange an experiment where they route lots calls through to company lines, getting close to maximum theoretical loads. They then increase the number of calls to the IVR to see when the systems can no longer serve customers. The aim is to find out how many requests the system can deal with at once and then put in place strategies to mitigate, avoid, or improve the situation. 

IVR Feature Testing

The previous two testing methods deal with the computing capacity of IVR systems. IVR feature testing, however, is more concerned with ensuring that the system does what it claims to do.

Suppose, for instance, a customer calls a company hotline to get assistance with a particular problem. When they call the company, they’re presented with an IVR system that tells them to say a specific number from a list of options. If there are four numbers in the list – 1, 2, 3, and 4 – then the IVR system should ensure that the user is forwarded to the service for the correct option. Furthermore, a feature test will also confirm that the IVR system does not forward users to services if they quote a number outside of the given range, like “seven.” The idea is to iron out any incongruencies in the system before allowing it to go live. 

IVR Experience Testing

IVR experience testing is a little bit like mystery shopping, but for a company’s IVR system. The process goes something like this: the firm gets somebody to call up their hotlines at regular intervals, just like a regular customer might throughout the day. They then test various options to see whether the experience makes sense, not just from a technical perspective. These tests can also put supporting infrastructure to the test. 

IVR Spike Testing

Spike testing is a little bit like stress testing but more intense. Occasionally, company lines will have to deal with dramatically more traffic than usual and react to spikes in demand. Usually, these spikes occur due to problems elsewhere in the network or a server going down, leading to a sudden rerouting of calls. Spike analysis determines how systems deal with shifting loads, whether they stop working altogether, slow down, or manage changes without issue. 

IVR Soak Testing

The final type of IVR testing you might come across is soak testing. Soak testing is a little different from the examples above, namely the ability of systems to manage traffic over extended periods. 

A typical soak test, for instance, would be to bombard an IVR with a thousand calls per hour over 48 hours to see if the system could cope with the numbers. 

Companies like to perform IVR soak testing, just in case issues with server capacity don’t emergy immediately, as they might in other testing methods. Soak testing, therefore, consumes more time inherently compared to different approaches. 

IVR Regression Testing

Regression testing is a type of analysis that checks that IVR systems continue to perform as expected following third-party integration. Sometimes updates and integrations can break IVR systems, causing them to work differently, undermining the customer experience. Regression testing provides businesses with critical information about the current status of their IVR. They show whether changes to system architectures result in meaningful service differences on the customer end.

The Need For Automatic IVR Testing

In all the testing methods described above, we’ve assumed that humans carry out the tests. In the real world, however, that isn’t practical. Companies can’t easily recruit thousands of volunteers to stress test their systems. And even if they could, coordinating them all in the right way would be a practical impossibility. 

Firms, therefore, prefer to use automatic IVR testing facilities. 

The way this work is simple. The software makes calls, as customers might, through the PSTN automatically. Then analysts monitor progress to explore system limits. The great thing about software is that it can make as many calls as the company sees fit. It scales infinitely, avoids human labor, and is customizable, letting you test systems in novel ways. You can automate all of the testing methods that we discussed in the previous section. 

Businesses use these automated software solutions for a variety of purposes. Automated experience testing is perhaps one of the most useful things that IVR testing offers. Machines can call up your services every five or ten minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to test that everything is in good working order. You get continual feedback on your systems using testing methods that mimic real-world situations.

Automatic testing helps to give IVR systems managers peace of mind. Every five minutes, they can get feedback confirming that the customer IVR experience is still functioning as it should.

Statistical Speech Testing Modelling

Automatically testing speech-dependent systems is much more challenging than testing conventional button-based systems. It is, however, still possible, reducing the burden on manual testers. 

IVR testing software engages with the voice user interface for a variety of topics, languages, and so on and then uses statistical methods to assess system performance. While these systems can’t yet eliminate the work of manual testers, they are a tremendous labor-saving device for busy companies that want to cut down on time spent doing rote tasks. 

IVR Testing: Benefits And Conclusions

Customers need to be able to get in touch with companies for support, guidance, sales, and to make complaints. It’s critical, therefore, that the telephone system routing them works correctly. 

In today’s market, however, there’s a problem. Many executives expect IVR managers to deliver solutions by short deadlines, cutting into the time that they can spend testing. Less time, in turn, means that more problems could potentially creep into the system, undermining the customer experience. 

What’s more, new software doesn’t always integrate with legacy IVR systems, creating additional headaches for managers. 

Automated IVR testing is a Digital Channel tool that you can use to combat these problems. It lets you stress test your systems to ensure that they continue to work, even in your worst-case scenarios, all in quick succession. You don’t need to spend hours organizing test scenarios when a simple software instruction will do the trick. This way, you can take your testing window time down to the bare minimum while still delivering viable customer experience. 

How well your customers can interact with your IVR can have an enormous impact on customer experience. Ideally, you want to be in a situation in which you can detect a defect before a customer does so that you can iron it out before it leads to disgruntled clients. Advanced IVR Digital Channel testing tools continually send requests to your telephone servers to check that everything works as it should. It’s a vital way to ensure that your interface with customers via telephone remains open and operational. It allows you to detect problems with your services before they do.