Building an affordable and unhurried upgrade path from IVRs to conversational Voice bots

This article describes ideas for a business with a speech-enabled IVR to plan its upgrade/transition to a modern generative AI powered conversational Voice Bot on its own timeline and at an affordable cost.

Businesses of all sizes have an IVR system that acts as a front-door for all their customer voice conversations. In terms of functionality, these IVRs systems vary widely; they can range from performing basic call-routing and triaging to automating simple calls - like taking payments, scheduling appointments, or providing account balance etc. While most of them accept touch-tone/DTMF as input, the more advanced ones also accept natural language speech as input and hence referred to as speech-enabled IVRs.

However these IVRs are getting obsolete and there is a growing demand to upgrade to a more conversational experience.

1. Traditional IVR/ASR Stack is getting obsolete

Traditionally Speech IVR applications were deployed on-premise; built on the same platform as the main contact center ACD/Switch. But soon, IVRs were deployed on the Cloud too. The on-premise IVR vendors include Avaya, Genesys and Cisco and cloud-based IVRs include vendors like Five9, RingCentral, Mitel and 8x8.

For speech recognition, the most popular option in the past had been Nuance. Nuance’s ASR technology – which gained popularity in the early2000s - preceded today’s neural-network-based engines. It was pre-Alexa and pre-Siri– and so both the vocabulary (i.e what the customer could actually say in response to a prompt) and the accuracy was limited compared to today’s neural-network-based speech-to-Text. In addition, the protocol for communication between Nuance and the telephony stack was MRCP – a protocol that is not being actively developed for many years now.

2. Modern Conversational AI Stack is being reimagined with Gen AI

Modern Conversational AI Stack for Voice Bots include a modern neural ASR/Speech-to-Text engine and neural Text-to-Speech and a NLU based Bot Framework. It is much more capable than what was available to build directed dialog Speech IVRs in the past.

Today’s neural ASR/STT engines can transcribe not just a few words or phrases, but entire sentences and they also do it very accurately. As consumers get used to such experiences with their voice assistants at home or in their cars, they expect the same when they contact a business over the phone.

There also been significant advances with modern no-code NLU Bot frameworks that are used to build the Bot Logic and conversation flow. These Bot frameworks are also evolving with the advent of generativeAI technologies like ChatGPT.

While the above two paragraphs describe good reasons to upgrade IVRs, there are some key factors that are driving a rather rushed timeline for businesses to plan this IVR migration 

3. Factors  driving a rather rushed timeline for IVR Migration

Time is running out for IVR Migration

a. Contact Center platforms focused on Cloud sales

Companies with on-premise Contact Centers are increasingly migrating to the Cloud. Even the on-premise contact center vendors too are focused on migrating their install base to the Cloud. So when an enterprise plans to migrate the contact center platform to the cloud, they would need to migrate the IVRs too.

b. Modern ASR/STTs focused on selling their AI/neural-network-based offerings

As explained above, modern AI/neural-network-based ASR/STT engines are more accurate and support a conversational experience. Hence ASR/STT vendors are focused on selling these newer offerings. It is not possible for businesses to use these newer ASRs with existing telephony stack. Both the protocol support (Web sockets and gRPC vs MRCP) and the application development method (grammar based vs. large vocabulary transcription with intent capture) are very different.

c. Demand to use a single Application/Bot Framework for both Chat and Voice

In the past companies built the application logic for Chatbot and IVR independently; very often different vendors provided the Chatbot and VoiceBot. However, given the powerful and flexible Conversational AI platforms that are available in the market, they want to use the same platform to drive the conversation turns of a Chatbot interaction and a Voice Bot interaction.

4. Taking Control of when to upgrade the IVR

As explained above, migrating from the traditional IVR stack to a modern Conversational AI stack entails not just rewriting the application logic but it is also likely to involve moving the infrastructure from on-premise to the cloud. This can be an expensive undertaking.

At Voicegain, we think that can help companies should be able to this at their own timeline.

We have developed an ASR that can support both (a) grammar-based recognition using MRCP and (b) large vocabulary transcription on audio streamed using modern protocols like Websockets. Also our platform can be deployed on-premise or in your VPC. So our platform supports both an existing application without any rewrite while also being capable of supporting a conversation voice bot when it is developed at some point in the future.

As a result, customers can take control of when to migrate/upgrade their IVRs. Most importantly, they would not be forced into invest in an upgrade/migration of their entire IVR application just because an existing ASR vendor would stop supporting an older version of the software.

If you have any questions or you would like to schedule a discussion to understand your IVR upgrade options, contact us on support@voicegain.ai.

To test our MRCP grammar-based ASR or our large vocabulary ASR, please sign up for a free developer account. Instructions are provided here.

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