Interactive Voice Response

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What Does Interactive Voice Response Mean?

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows humans to interact with computers using voice or a dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) signaling keypad. IVR allows customers to find answers to their own inquiries by speaking (using the company’s speech recognition software) or giving inputs via a telephone keypad.


IVR uses prerecorded and dynamically generated audio to interact with customers. The key benefit to IVR systems is that they can handle large volumes of calls, where only simple interactions are required.

IVR is also known as a telephone menu or voice response unit.

Techopedia Explains Interactive Voice Response

At the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, Bell System introduced the first telephone capable of dialing area codes using dual-tone modulation frequency with dial tones in the range of human hearing. This was the genesis of IVR. However, IVR technology was complex and expensive through the 1970s.

In the 1980s, more companies entered the market. Competition led to further development of speech recognition software, causing the move from digital signal processors to a client/server architecture. Companies began researching computer telephony integration for use with IVR systems. Intelligent routing of calls to appropriate company personnel or departments became common and vital for efficient business answering operations. In the 2000s, speech recognition software was further developed and eventually became less expensive. This was made possible by faster processing speeds and the transfer of speech recognition proprietary programming code to the VXML standard.

IVR prioritizes customer calls coming into a call center, moving some to the front of the queue. Prioritization is based on the reason for the call and on a dialed number identification service. The system can also log caller detail information and collect it in a database for auditing, system performance analysis and future system improvements.

Other typical uses for IVR are:

  • Voice-activated dialing to automate routine inquiries to switchboards or private automatic branch exchange operators
  • Entertainment and information to handle television game shows or televoting, which can generate huge call volumes
  • Anonymous access to sensitive data from hospitals and clinics using pass codes
  • Mobile purchases and registrations
  • Obtaining personal banking data
  • Taking orders and credit card payments
  • Reporting utility meter readings
  • Confirming airline flight information
  • Chat and dating lines
  • Weather and road conditions

IVR technology has its critics. Callers may object to providing voice responses to automated systems and prefer to talk to a human respondent. Customers may feel frustrated when their ability to talk to a human is restricted.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.