Here’s how to use SMS as an IVR alternative to reduce long hold times and improve customer service

Problem Snapshot

  • This is a time when an increase in inbound call volume is at a time when agent staffing may not be up to par.
  • For companies who also handle outbound engagement, this creates an even greater challenge as blended agents may be held up by the increase in inbound calls.
  • Customers have been impacted with longer hold times that lead to decreased satisfaction.

The Solution

Any well-designed IVR system will be optimized to eliminate waiting on hold — by all accounts the most egregious offense to the customer experience — and either present self-service options or define a time when agents will be available to offer their services.

By interacting with menu options in your IVR, customers are presented with the quickest possible route to resolving their issue. You can configure any number of different support SMS messages to be triggered with the click of button, or use the standard  instructional audio snippets to prompt them to self-serve within the IVR or be taken out of the call queue entirely to wait for a callback. Because a traditional IVR lets you configure instructional audio to play in the call flow using automated voice, at any stage where the customer requires choice you can prompt them to receive a text message and continue the conversation mobily.

Adding text message triggers to your IVR menu is the quickest and most cost-effective way to provide mobile service and minimize the pressure on voice agent resources within the contact center. For example, the large numbers of calls for routine interactions like account balance checks, payments, card replacements, password resets, or suspicious activity could be resolved by triggering an SMS message that includes step-by-step instructions or a link to your knowledge base with more information on how to self-serve.

Understanding IVR and SMS

IVR stands for interactive voice response. It’s the automated voice menu most customers are familiar with reaching when they call a company’s support phone number. Instead of merely pressing buttons, IVR allows customers to interact with the menu using speech. While very different, some companies are using SMS as an IVR alternative.

IVR helps both agents and customers by:

  • Gathering more information about the reason for the call, which helps route it to the most appropriate resource
  • Offering self-service options, which enables fast resolutions and reduces agent workloads
  • Providing basic information and deflecting inbound call volume during peak call hours

SMS stands for short messaging service, although most of us just call it text messaging. In a business setting, SMS allows companies to send and receive messages and multimedia content to and from customers.

SMS benefits are similar to those of IVR in that it:

  • Gives customers a convenient way to communicate with a company
  • Can automate the process of disseminating information
  • Helps route customers to the best available resource while deflecting calls away from live agents

When combined, these two tools form an automated customer service machine. Knowing how to use SMS together with IVR gives organizations a major leg up in the fight to provide the best possible customer experience and keep response times low.

Give customers what they want

People don’t enjoy repeating themselves, and they dislike it even more when it’s a robot asking them to do it.

As anyone who has attempted to convey a credit card number while in an IVR will tell you, they aren’t greeeeaaat at interpreting alphanumeric inputs. And the moment doing so fails, the customer is taken to an agent who then asks them to repeat said number again, adding yet another layer of inefficiency to the transaction. In many routine cases the IVR serves mainly as a routing function, and this is where adding in SMS to your IVR menu can be extremely effective.

Say, for instance, a customer calls in to change their address. With SMS enabled, the IVR text message can provide the caller an option to receive a text prompting them to input the requisite contact details as a reply. Once those details are provided and sent back via text, the IVR can continue through the rest of the flow or forward to live assistance if such a measure is needed. Another option is to send a text with a URL that the customer can press and enter then the relevant information.Regardless, this interaction was just reduced by minutes, and your customer spared an immeasurable amount of frustration. Moreover, this is something that comes completely naturally to us! Texting is something we do everyday.

The best proof of this pudding is the fact that customers have already told us to text them:

  • 78% of people say text messaging is the fastest way for companies to reach them
  • 98% of SMS alerts are read by customers
  • SMS has 5X the open rate for SMS as compared to the open rate of emails

Contact centers can capitalize on this trend by leveraging SMS conversations as an IVR SMS solution during long wait times. Like a scheduled callback, this option can enable customers to be “released” from being on hold and allows them to go about their day while continuing the conversation on their channel of choice.

SMS can increase the potential and efficiency of remote agents.

On the flip side, from an operational perspective, digital messaging channels afford newly remote contact centers more control over their environment because they mitigate background noise without compromising interaction quality.

Further, supplementing an IVR to SMS interaction with digital channels like SMS sets up a win-win situation for your business and your customer insofar as the customer gets to complete a transaction fully with minimal hassle and your contact center gets to convert an expensive, agent-assisted interaction into a self-guided experience driven by the customer which usually means lots of cost (and time) savings. And, if that wasn’t enough:

  • Messaging agents do not require as much bandwidth as voice agents, so you can create a wider opportunity for agents to work from home.
  • Messaging shifts agent service capacity from a 1-to-1 conversation to a many-to-one conversation as agents can handle numerous asynchronous conversations at once.
  • Messaging also allows agents to ramp up quickly for SMS intraday peaks. Like voice campaigns, inbound SMS volume can be directly tied to outreach efforts.

Overtime, SMS call dispositions can be used to improve IVR strategies and refine auto-responses for both SMS and Voice workflows.

Like voice call resolution reports, SMS resolution reports can also provide insight on ways to improve call strategies and create auto-responses to increase self-service.

A key to adding SMS strategies and gaining such insight is to effectively integrate any SMS application into the overall contact center application — including the contact center’s other engagement channels, CRM, and performance analytics solution. Accomplishing this can be challenging but is fundamental to successfully evolving to a modern contact center.

How to use SMS as an alternative or addition to IVR

It’s hard to think of a more convenient way to reach customers than by sending text messages. In addition to sending basic text content, today’s messaging platforms can also send multimedia, like images and website links. Here are a few ingenious ways to use SMS as an IVR alternative.

Update customers on the status of their order

One of the most frequent reasons customers call B2C companies is to check in on their orders. Instead of making them go through a phone menu, instantly provide order confirmation messages and delivery updates via text.

Send appointment and bill-pay reminders

In addition to helping busy consumers stay on top of upcoming appointments and payment deadlines, this function has the added benefit of helping companies avoid delinquent accounts and reduce appointment no-shows.

Collect feedback

The last thing many customers want to do at the end of a support call is take a feedback survey. SMS makes it easy for them to provide feedback on their own time. You can also automate the process of offering incentives in exchange for feedback, like a discount code after completing a questionnaire.

Offer personalized recommendations

When your SMS platform is integrated with your CRM, you can pull in customer data to deploy all sorts of cool personalizations. Send text alerts when a product the customer was interested in is back in stock or about to go out of stock. Offer early access and high-value discounts to your most valuable customers.

Leverage automation with IVR to text message as part of your follow up outreach

Self-service options like IVR-triggered SMS reduce customer wait times, improve agent productivity, and enhance the customer experience.

By interacting with menu options in your IVR, customers can choose to take the fastest possible route to solving their support inquiry. You can program your IVR to include triggers for  callbacks, and you can also program it to remove people from the IVR queue and invite them to self service over a digital channel like SMS.  We can accommodate any number of different support use cases via digital message and play these options in the call flow of your IVR menu.

At any stage where the customer requires choice, a well-designed SMS IVR system optimizes the service to slim call queues and maximize the customer experience. Waiting on hold, the biggest culprit when it comes to bad customer experiences, can be eliminated by using automation to reroute callers to a digital self service channel like SMS.

Industries that use SMS IVR Systems for customer support and service

Self-service channels like SMS triggers from IVR systems are increasingly popular in industries across the board, from retail, healthcare, hospitality, travel, and financial services because they improve efficiency, accuracy and accessibility. Here are a few ways healthcare and financial services firms are using SMS IVR systems today.


Push notifications, IVR-triggered SMS, and two-way texting are becoming cornerstone pieces of the digital healthcare puzzle because of the opportunity for connection they present to providers and patients at all points of the engagement journey. IVR SMS can bridge gaps in communication that can make or break patient outcomes by scheduling callbacks or prompting a patient to self-service.

Digital channels like SMS help patients take control of their medical needs and maintain access to resources like appointment dates, test results, vaccine requirements, and more. Most people nowadays, especially younger generations, prefer to interact online or via a mobile app. Digital self-service like IVR triggered SMS helps improve the continuity of care providers can offer and achieve better patient satisfaction.

Financial services

Financial services firms can use IVR triggered SMS for payment reminders, appointment notifications, and scheduled callbacks.

Much like IVR, SMS chatbots also provide customers the ability to access their accounts quickly and easily. Chatbots can be designed to take payments or provide on-demand information. They can also route customers to appropriate agents via text.

As virtual agents, chatbots create customized interactions with each customer. Virtual assistants can answer FAQs through automated responses. They can also intake customer input via short surveys. The 24/7 accessibility SMS Chatbots provide make them a useful feature that contact centers use to enhance the customer experience.

Enhance customer interactions with SMS!

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