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Tips for Designing an IVR That Customers Don’t Mind Using

It’s no secret that many customers don’t like using Interactive Voice Response (IVRs). They feel frustrated by having to work through a seemingly endless series of prompts, wondering if they’ll ever be able to get the answer or help they want.

According to a study by New York University, a whopping 83% of consumers said IVRs either provide them with no benefit at all or are only provided as a cost savings opportunity for the companies that deploy them.  (1) Ouch.

But it doesn’t need to be like this.

When you make it easy and fast for customers to get help – all of a sudden IVR is better accepted.

Does your IVR design match your objectives?

The main purpose of any IVR is to either assist a customer with a request/task, or to route a call to an agent for help.

The growing trend in contact centres around the world is to increase customer use of self-service options for routine tasks, and thereby reduce agent call volumes, queue waiting times and operational costs.

It makes perfect operational sense that you give your customers a series of drill down options so that they end up at the right self-service option or in the right queue.  However your operational requirements need to be carefully balanced with the customer experience you deliver by doing this.

How you balance this when designing your IVR will depend on the type of business and your market positioning.  For example, if you are a provider of high end services, such as a luxury hotel or retailer, then it’s important that you make it fast and easy for your callers to speak to a live person.  Providers of low cost goods and services will offer more self-service options and only provide the option to speak to a live agent at the very end.

What options do you include?

The answer to this depends on your objectives.  Detailed analysis of purpose of calls will help prioritise the menu levels, options and order.

If your key objective is to direct callers to the right queue – present the options in the order which reflects the most frequent requests.  Eg: Sales, Technical Service, Customer Support; or Concierge Desk, Reception, Housekeeping.

If you want to encourage self-service options, use the same strategy – ie: arrange your menu options to match purpose volumes.  Eg: Update password, check balance, make a payment, etc.

However bear in mind that the more options you give callers, the more you will confuse and frustrate them.  They’ll either hang up or “zero out”, ie: choose “0” to speak to an agent.  This then defeats the purpose of having an IVR system if your main objective is to increase the use of self-help options.

The conventional tree structure is no more than five options across in the top menu and three sub-menus deep: ie –  you give callers up to five options, and when they push one of those, they can go down as many as three sub-menus.  However less is better.

We suggest regularly analysing the actual use of all the options and culling those which are rarely used, or combining them.

When do you introduce the live agent option?

Bruce Belfiore, CEO and senior research executive at BenchmarkPortal suggests testing it.  “How far down [the option for 0] goes is something you can actually play with in a scientific way—try to find out how much putting the option right up front increases your call volume and how much burying it further down increases the number of hangups.”

Gartner company Software Advice called the IVRs of 50 Fortune 500 customer service-oriented companies to see how far they had to go before receiving the option to speak to an agent.


  Number of Menus Reached Before Reaching Human Call Center Agent: Software Advice Survey

The majority of companies forced callers to wait until they’d reached the third menu before allowing them to zero out, and less than a quarter provided the live agent option in the first menu.

Belfiore suggests that measuring first call resolution is a better way to review the success of your IVR system, rather than focusing on hangups or zeroing out.

10 IVR design tips for creating a user friendly IVR

  1. Keep introductions to a minimum. Most IVR opening messages include an introductory message identifying the company. While this can be a great opportunity to promote your brand, they can also bore and frustrate your callers. The majority of Fortune 500 companies called during the Software Advice Survey kept their introductory message to under 7.9 seconds.
  2. IVR should sound like an agent. The closer your responses sound to a live agent that’s actually listening, the better the customer experience.   When recording, your voice artist should try to use a natural conversational tone with the right inflection.  However, don’t overuse “OK” and “thank you”, as this can sound as false as “have a nice day”.
  3. Allow barge-in for all prompts. Respect your customer’s time and allow them to skip ahead and choose their option at any point.
  4. Reassure your customers. One reason customers dislike IVR self-service is they lack confidence that their query or transaction is actually being processed. Provide follow up confirmation via text or email to give them reassurance that their matter is being dealt with or their transaction has been processed.
  5. Provide mobility options. Give your customers access to your IVR via mobile phone so they can select options from their screen, and receive confirmations and links via text messages.
  6. Pass info provided by customer to agent. One of the greatest frustrations for customers is repeating information they just entered into an IVR when they connect with an agent. Make it a better experience by screen popping the caller’s details into the agent’s screen when the call is connected.
  7. Always provide customers with a live agent option. Although a well-designed IVR menu makes it’s easy for customers to navigate and locate answers or help, you cannot serve all callers with IVR, so you must let them get to a person or at least request a call-back.
  8. Don’t waste customers’ time. Avoid unnecessary messaging (like your web address or marketing messages) at the first level, as your customers want help, and they want it quickly.  Marketing messages can be played when the caller is in the queue.
  9. Don’t set and forget. Regularly review your call purposes, IVR abandonment rate, first call resolution rates and customer satisfaction levels to see where you could be tweaking your process and messaging.
  10. Forget “Our Menu has Changed” message. When you do make changes, don’t waste time telling customers that your menu has changed.  Unless they call you frequently, they really won’t remember all your menu option numbers.  Of course this isn’t applicable for services dedicated to regular callers – like channel partner support.

In the end, the purpose of your IVR is to primarily benefit your customers and increase first call resolution.  The outcome for you is better customer satisfaction, and the secondary benefit of reduced costs.

IVR Design is something that the Premier Contact Point team has helped many customers with, because getting it wrong can negatively impact Grades of Service and your Customer Experience.

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IVR Design is something that the Premier Contact Point team has helped many customers with, because getting it wrong can negatively impact Grades of Service and your Customer Experience.


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