13 Best Practices For Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

Mar 28, 2023
13 Best Practices For Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

Few businesses nowadays have receptionists answering phone calls. Automation is king, and interactive voice response (IVR) is the rule.

Poorly written IVR menus can alienate callers, and once someone hangs up, chances are they won’t try again. IVR best practices help you ensure that your callers’ experience is as smooth as possible.

Best Practices for Designing IVR Systems

IVR systems can streamline customer service, but a poorly designed one can be frustrating for customers and call agents alike. Start by designing a structure and navigation that is simple and clear and prioritizes the most popular options in the menu. Keep the main menu to four to six options using concise language that's easy to understand. Put the most frequently used functions at the beginning of the menu to help callers get what they need quickly.

As for the prompts, the shorter, the better — keep greetings to eight seconds or less and four seconds for menu options. Allow callers to interrupt lengthy prompts with their selection to avoid frustration. 

Finally, consider the customer experience. We’ve all been in positions where an IVR feels annoying rather than helpful. Always provide a clear path to connect with a live agent if callers can't resolve their issue through the IVR. Minimize repetition: don't make callers repeat information they've already entered, step after step. And, monitor calls for improvement to eliminate any obstacles preventing your IVR from performing well. 

Here are some tips on how to create IVR menus that satisfy callers’ needs.

  1. Map out the call flow

    To get started, map out the call flow you want. Your menu will likely have multiple levels, starting with having callers choose the language they want to be prompted in. Some choices may send callers to a department, such as sales or support, while others send them to a recording or an automated system. You may want to offer different choices depending on time of day or day of week; for instance, you probably don’t want to offer the option to speak to someone in sales if someone is calling outside of working hours; instead, you can let them leave a message.

  2. Record the spoken IVR menu

    Get someone with a pleasant voice to record the spoken IVR menu. You want your message to sound like the person who reads the news on TV or radio — confident, to make them feel as if they’re in good hands. If you can’t find someone on staff to handle the recording, hire a voice actor — someone who’s an expert in speaking what they read without making it sound like they’re reading, and who can put a little pep into their voice but not so much as to sound phony. Another option is to use speech synthesis, a technique that has come a long way in the last few years. You can still tell a synthesized voice from a human, but technology like Amazon Polly is a useful option if you have more prompts that you can comfortably record, or constantly changing options, or you don’t want the hassle of hiring a voice actor and maintaining recordings. Ongoing advances in AI technology will soon make text-to-speech voices harder to distinguish from biologically generated speech.

  3. Keep introductions short

    Everyone knows what IVR is by now, so you don’t have to explain it. Don’t tell them “our menu has changed” — no one cares, they just need to hear the menu. You’ll do just fine with “Thanks for calling &Company” before launching into the menu choices.

  4. Pay attention to word order

    When relating menu choices, say the task or function first and the key to press second (“to speak to sales press or say 1”). That lets customers identify what’s the right choice to meet their needs before telling them how to get there. Provide choices to let callers return to the previous menu or to the top of the menu tree.

  5. Allow both voice and dialpad response

    Let callers respond either by speaking a menu choice or pressing a number on their keypad.

  6. Allow barge-in

    Let callers barge in to make a selection while the system is playing the menu. Respect callers’ time and let them choose an option at any point.

  7. Offer an operator

    Always provide the option to speak to a human. An IVR menu can cover a lot of possibilities but it can’t cover everything. Designate someone to field the small percentage of callers that your well-designed IVR tree can’t satisfy — and make sure that that person knows where to transfer what kinds of queries.

  8. Send confused callers to the operator

    If the caller can’t figure out what to press and doesn’t press anything or enters an invalid selection, don’t hang up on them; instead, transfer them to a human who can help them. If this happens often, revise your IVR menu.

  9. Provide confirmation

    If the caller’s interaction results in a transaction, such as paying a bill, follow up with confirmation via another channel, such as SMS or email, to reassure the caller that the transaction completed successfully.

  10. Pass along customer-entered information

    If your IVR system asks for customer information, such as an account number, capture the information entered and pass it along if the call needs to be handled by an agent. Nothing is more frustrating for callers than having to repeat information.

  11. Minimize hold time

    Try to minimize the time callers are on hold when being transferred from the IVR menu to their destination. Ideally, provide an option for someone in your company to automatically return calls instead of forcing people to wait on hold. When hold time is unavoidable, provide an estimate of how long callers are likely to have to wait.

  12. Measure caller satisfaction

    Track data such as call abandonment rate and first call resolution rate.

  13. Review, refine, iterate

    Regularly review your menu to keep it relevant. Use the metrics you track to help you refine your menu.

How to implement an IVR menu

By following these IVR menu best practices you should have more satisfied customers and prospects. When you’re ready to start implementing an IVR phone tree in code, Plivo makes things easy for you. We have documentation in the form of IVR use case guides in seven common web development languages.

If you’re not already a Plivo customer, sign up for free today and see how easy it is to create IVR phone trees.

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