No excuses: Best Practices for IVR

Spoken | August 9, 2016

Phone key pad
HeidiBlog HS by Heidi Miller, Chief Conversation Officer at Spoken Communications

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) has been adopted as a common technology by large, mid-sized and even small companies for providing efficient, friendly customer support while reducing customer service overhead costs. IVR is by no means new technology, with the most basic DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency signaling) or keypad input starting the popular trend. The benefits of gating a live-agent system with an IVR are proven: IVR systems can direct and route callers to the appropriate agent or department and scale well for high call volumes.

If the technology is so solid and accepted, why is it that so many companies get it wrong? 

Simple. IVR design should not be left to engineers. Or rather, it should not be left exclusively to engineers. As Spoken’s CTO, Gilad Odinak, has said, if you want to know what’s wrong with your current IVR and speech recognition system, ask an agent. Agents call tell you exactly where your system is letting callers down because they deal with the frustrated and angry results of bad call flows every day.

One of the major signs that an IVR system is badly designed is opt-out rate. If callers are frequently hitting zero to speak with an agent instead of navigating the call flow, that is an indication that the call flow isn’t meeting customer expectations and improving the customer experience.

Despite complaints from some IVR callers about bad experiences with poorly-constructed IVRs, studies have shown that, for simple, routine tasks such as filling prescriptions, checking flight status, checking account balance and tracking shipments, a majority of callers actually prefer IVR automation to human interaction. In fact 77% of the callers in that survey specifically pointed to the 24/7 availability of automation for those tasks as the primary reason for their preference. It would seem that if the choice is no service at 2:00 a.m. or a pleasant, well-constructed IVR that can give the correct information in a matter of minutes, the IVR wins, hands-down.

Best Practices for IVR Creation and Management

  1. Reflect your brand. Your IVR greeting should reflect your brand. The right voice is essential. Don’t try to sound bigger or more corporate than you are. As Tom Vanderwell has pointed out:     
  2. Digging back into the archives, I must tell you that my favorite IVR greeting of all time was back in Gateway’s
    hey-day when they were selling their own computers direct to the
    consumer. You could almost hear the cows and prairie grass in the
    background along with a guitar on the back porch as a pleasant,
    chipper, mid-west female welcomed you to South Dakota. I laughed out
    loud when she added, “if you’ve got a rotary phone – we love your sense
    of nostalgia – hang on the line….” It was funny, pleasant and on

  3. Keep it simple. No one will appreciate a menu with eight choices. The human mind can’t hold that many options in short-term memory without written help. Keep it to five choices maximum; four is better. Have you ever called CostCo? The IVR tree is unnavigable. 
  4. Add a little humanity. The IVR system should not be seen as a set it and forget it tool. It should be a living, breathing entity that evolves and grows with the company and its new offers and services. Revisit the call flow on a regular basis, with both your customer service department AND your engineers.
  5. Include CTI so the caller doesn’t have to repeat her information when she reaches an agent. These days, there is no excuse for not incorporating CTI (computer-telephony integration) into the IVR system. Having to repeat information after navigating the IVR is one of the top customer complaints; not addressing that issue is the equivalent of ignoring customer satisfaction.

What would you add to the list?

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