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How to Create the Right IVR Customer Experience

We’ve all seen those comical ads in which a customer endlessly stabs phone buttons, or yells their request into the IVR system repeatedly, in an effort to try and get help. You can just feel their frustration, can’t you?

These days, it doesn’t need to be like that – if you’re using the right IVR technology, and you’ve put thoughtful effort into the IVR customer experience you’re delivering.

Customers are used to IVR systems, and have come to expect their calls to be answered by an automated system. After all, IVRs have been in use in contact centres since the late 1990s.

What they can’t cope with in today’s technology age is frustrating navigation, speech systems that don’t understand what they’re saying, and horrible music or sales messages while they’re on hold.

If your IVR abandoned call rates are getting higher, it’s time to review your IVR technology, configuration and messaging.

Does your IVR messaging reflect your brand?

Give thought to the choice of staff member (or voiceover artist) that you choose to record your messages, what they will say, and how they will say it.

A professional voiceover artist will record multiple voice clips in a single recording session, and be adept at providing consistent tone, pace, volume and intonation.

  • A healthcare provider might consider an empathetic, older female voice
  • A retailer catering to under-30s needs a young person who uses appropriate language, not a stilted formal script
  • A sports club could think about using one of their sports stars to record the messages, which would no doubt go down well with their members

Just as your brand logo and tagline was chosen to appeal to your ideal customers and reflect your market positioning, so should your audio messages. The voice tone should reflect your target audience, and be delivered in a friendly and concise way.

Review your IVR call path flow

In our article Tips for Designing an IVR That Customers Don’t Mind Using we reviewed the depth of your IVR system. How many sub menu items it should contain, how many choices within each menu, and how long before you offer the caller the option to speak to a live person.

The depth of your IVR menu system will depend on the type of business you are in, and what your objectives are.

  • In the case of a healthcare provider, you don’t want to put your potentially stressed callers through a complicated system of prompts when all they want to do is get information quickly about a sick family member. The option to speak to a staff member should be given at the first level.
  • Utilities and financial institutions, on the other hand, should make self-service as easy as possible – so that callers can quickly and easily perform transactions that shouldn’t require live help.

What’s important is to always provide the option for callers to get live help or receive a call back.

A good way to review the effectiveness of your IVR flow is to give your staff members (particularly new ones), or some market testers, a variety of tasks to achieve by calling your IVR, and to note down what they thought was frustrating or tricky, and what worked well. Using “outsiders” or people new to your system will give you unbiased, fresh feedback on your system and their  experience with it.

Really listen to your prompt messages

Take a fresh look at your prompt scripts and see what you can do to make them more succinct and helpful.

Cut unnecessary messages

Please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed” is a waste of valuable customer time, particularly if you have customers who don’t call regularly.  Chances are they won’t remember what it used to be – so why even say this?  The only business types who may need to use this message would be companies who do have customers calling in regularly, like wholesalers or transport businesses. And don’t keep it going; the message should be dropped 1 or 2 weeks after the IVR menu change has come into effect.

Don’t use jargon

Be careful not to use terminology or acronyms that are commonly used in your industry but could be unknown to prospects and customers. The finance industry often refers to the PDS, yet many people don’t know that this is the acronym for Product Disclosure Statement – or even what this is.

Keep it simple

Steve Hindley from iNarratorOnHold gives the example of the following two statements and asks: “which of these is easier to understand?”

  1. “To request a copy of your latest bill, make a payment over the phone or speak to us about a query on your account then press 1”
  2. “For billing, payment and accounts queries, press 1”

The second one is shorter and much easier for busy people to hear. Notice also that for both options, the function is provided first, then the action (‘press 1‘).

This is because of the way most people’s brains work. They are listening for the most relevant option, so they immediately listen out for the function. If the number comes before the function, it messes with people’s heads. By the time they’ve heard which service they want to go through to, they’ve forgotten which number they needed to press.

Be human and sincere

Your call is important to us” is an overused phrase, to the point of being quite meaningless, and is often met with cynicism, particularly when the customer has to be left waiting on hold for a while.

Consider changing the message at intervals so they don’t hear the same phrase over and over again.

  • Eg: “We shouldn’t be long!”,
  • then “We’re doing our best to be with you shortly”,
  • then “We’re sorry you’ve been kept on hold, we have a large volume of calls at present. If you’re unable to continue waiting, press 1 and we’ll call you back shortly

Tailor your scripts for different customer sectors

Modern IVR systems, like Premier Contact Point’s, enable you to set up unique call routing for different customers. This enables you to tailor messaging to specific caller groups and provide more relevant information before the caller reaches a live representative.

Measure, monitor and tweak

No matter how well you plan your IVR system using some of the suggestions above, you will always encounter calls that don’t fit into any of the boxes.

Do you alter your IVR flow to accommodate all permutations? Or do you keep it simple and direct unplanned responses to a live staff member?

This is the conundrum. You don’t want to over-complicate the IVR system by catering for everyone. But you also don’t want to overload your customer team with extra calls and consequently incur extra waiting times for your customers.

The first step is to monitor:

  • If your team encounters the same question over and over and over again, it’s time to see how you can answer it through your IVR system, or to provide a self-help link.

The second step is to measure:

  • Keep testing the IVR and the important stats, such as abandonment rate, and track how this changes over time.
  • If you are planning a new script, benchmark the last three and six months, and create a snapshot, before implementing the new IVR.
  • After 60 days of implementing the new script, take another snapshot, and then another 60 days later, and compare all the important metrics. Have IVR abandoned call rates dropped? Have self-service transactions increased or decreased? Have the live contact questions for these topics dropped or increased?

The third step is to be responsive:

  • Keep monitoring and tweaking – because external factors, your customers’ needs, and your business objectives will continue to evolve and change and you need to be agile and responsive.

Two important thoughts

  1. In the mind of a customer, a company that can’t figure out how to communicate effectively via their phone system, is a company that doesn’t care.
  2. There will always be something that can be done to improve your customer journey.

IVR Design is something that the Premier Contact Point team has helped many customers with, because getting it right can significantly improve your overall Customer Experience.


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