Research, analysis, and thought leadership for enterprise communications.

Wanted: A Modern Cloud IVR

by in rant

I have been looking in vain for a small-business friendly IVR portal. Something we can build telephone menus in the cloud, with a little bit of interactivity. It needs to be cheap, simple, and have a low learning curve. I am surprised by how difficult this is to find.

I envisioned a web based service where I could drag and drop bubbles, and then connect those bubbles with arrows to form a network of menus and prompts and actions. It would be like a lego set for telecom managers, with no programming required.

It would start with an incoming call going to a bubble that played a greeting. Out of that bubble with be some pattern matching choices, with those going to other bubbles. The patterns would allow a digit, a couple of digits, or some simple Asterisk-style patterns.

Bubbles could play a recording, or transfer a call through to a number, or to a SIP. Bubbles could extract digits from the number, or could save those into memories. Based on the pattern dialed, flags could be set for use later on in routing.

I would want to build an automated attendant. Or, route callers based on their membership number (i this case I would upload an Excel spreadsheet with the number and the resulting digits as in a lookup table. I would like to build a simple survey. Or, a queue.

Above all else, it would need to be able to start simple and then allow me to get into more advanced functions. And, no programming or “computer language” syntax could be required.

Why do I need it so simple? Programmers are expensive…they have a loaded cost of $10K a month and up. Worse, they have a development backlog measured in months. I need an answer that a clerk can administer. A holiday upcoming can be accommodated by a smart clerk. New CSV lookup tables can be uploaded by the clerk. Survey results can be downloaded. Special routes and bubbles can be added and changed without programming knowledge.

Here are some of the core functions:

Bubbles can play a recording, or can transfer a call, or they can hang up, or they can insert and delete digits, or save the digits or set a flag..

Arrows out of a bubble can go to other bubbles. The arrow is triggered by a matched pattern or via a lookup table or a flag in memory.

Lookup tables would have a column that contains a number or pattern to match, and a column which is the “output” digits to the next bubble. It might have some other frills, like being able to set or clear a flag or variable with a value. A lookup table is pretty much the same as an arrow except that it can be uploaded from an excel compatible CSV spreadsheet.

Why doesn’t something like this exist in the cloud? There are hundreds of thousands of small businesses that need an answer like this.

I know there are large enterprise class products out there, and you could eventually coerce an Asterisk-in-the-cloud hosted PBX to do this. But our company is very decentralized, and offices try to be self sufficient. Smaller enterprises with 5~25 employees need this too, and they can’t learn to program or administer an enterprise-class system.

I would think a product like this would exist. I would think it would be relatively straightforward to build. Why isn’t it available?

And, why isn’t it a plug-in on an Asterisk system?


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  • Twilio. Callfire. IVR Lab. Plum Voice. Avoxi. Telzio. 5Nine

  • Ritu Maheshwari

    My thoughts are that even small biz should have an enterprise-grade solution available for this – and newer cloud solutions offer exactly that. A reliable IVR/PBX service for the small biz without the exorbitant professional services costs. ShoreTel Connect CLOUD – just launched has a simple visual editor for base IVR features like what you describe above. It is specifically designed for the non-programmer-non-IT user. Good luck in your search.

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Colin Berkshire is a highly technical HR executive in the Pulp and Paper Industry. Colin has an engineering and voice background, and is currently on assignment in Asia. NOTE: Colin does not respond to comments, and does not Tweet.