Let Your Fingers Do the Talking

By Hatlevig, Troy | Personnel Journal, August 1995 | Go to article overview

Let Your Fingers Do the Talking


Hatlevig, Troy, Personnel Journal


Perhaps more than any other forms of CJ modem technology, the telephone and the personal computer have fundamentally changed how we do business, how we interact with one another, how we live our lives. The first is probably the most commonplace piece of technology in the modem world-and the second promises to soon overtake it. It's inevitable, then, that new ways to join these two devices are constantly being discovered. The Internet, which promises to radically alter life as we know it, is a group of computer networks interconnected by phone lines. And another union of telephones and computers, interactive voice response (IVR), seems poised to change dramatically the way business is done.

For general IVR information, press i, The HR applications for this technology are myriad. "This is a marketplace that's going to explode," says Jim Fredrickson, president of TelServe, a company that specializes in IVR services. Indeed, one survey projected 30% to 35% compound growth industrywide over the next five years. Adds Fredrickson: "Recognizing that IVR is still in its infancy, I see it spreading to become a major communications strategy for HR departments. By the year 2000, it will be the exceptional firm that doesn't do it."

IVR is much more than just an advanced voicemail system. It allows the caller to get questions answered, obtain data base information or process an order without ever speaking with another person. With IVR, the caller not only can retrieve information, but can alter that information as well. "That's the fundamental difference between IVR and voicemail," continues Fredrickson. "In a voicemail environment, all the caller really can accomplish is to leave a message that someone else has to retrieve at a later date. With IVR, where there's data base access, the caller can complete a transaction."

And in these days of doing more with less, that can lift a serious strain from HR's workload. "IVR technology is at its best when used to answer repetitive, non-interpretive questioning," says Fredrickson. Which means IVR can effectively take over such HR functions as enrolling employees in flex-benefits programs, posting jobs, dispersing compensation plan information, handling dependent status inquiries and administration, and monitoring time and attendance. All of which can help human resources professionals concentrate on the more strategic, interpretive aspects of their jobs.

To read about stand-alone IVR systems, press 2, Hewlett-Packard understands the value and adaptability of IVR. It already uses the technology to automate Stock/401k plan administration, employment verification, benefit plan information, reference information and more. The company maintains more than 40 different IVR platforms. Although not all of them automate HR information, they all directly affect the HR function by changing the job descriptions of HR's internal customers. For example, Hewlett-Packard's Express Support Operation, a Roseville, California-based warehouse of more than 125,000 H-P parts for sale to trade and internal customers, takes nearly 8,000 calls a day on its IVR system. Callers can price parts, quote availability, get order status, obtain warranties and place orders, all at the push of a touch-tone button. Besides being a much more efficient and cost-effective means of performing these tasks, IVR also has raised the job-skill level of the company's customer service representatives. "IVR siphoned off all the easy stuff, and the agents started receiving more complex, more challenging calls--the calls that required a human interface," says Mike Pontillo, project manager for IVR applications.

Pontillo says when Hewlett-Packard wants to add a new application, they often design it, script it and maintain it themselves. To help them do so, they maintain a standard hardware and software platform, one developed by Norcross, Georgia-based Computer Communications Specialists (CCS), a firm that specializes in IVR applications. …

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