Ten IVR Best Practices to Improve Customer Experiences

Thoughtful IVR design is one of the essential IVR best practices

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Let’s face it: customers hate using Interactive Voice Response systems (IVRs). They particularly dislike having to enter a seemingly endless series of prompts, wondering if they’ll ever be able to have an issue resolved. It’s hardly surprising that the majority of customers are dissatisfied with their IVR experiences.
According to a study by New York University, a whopping 83 percent 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.

The problem isn't IVR technology, its IVR design

Certainly a key component of customer dissatisfaction with IVRs is that people don’t like to be forced to use a machine. In reality, however, the fault lies not with the technology, but with the implementation of the technology.

Today, companies not only force callers to enter information; they also play marketing messages, provide website information, outage information, and/or business hours and locations. This causes long delays and wait times when trying to reach an associate and can frustrate customers. No longer can customers ‘choose’ to use the automa­tion; rather they’re often forced to use it as the only means to do business with that specific company or to resolve an issue. More and more companies started to embrace the IVR solution, causing customers to have a very limited number of options if they wanted to speak to an associate.

Let’s stop and picture, for a moment, how accepted bank ATMs would be if they were set up like IVR systems of today. Can the reader imagine a series of ATM machines at the entrance of a brick-and-mortar bank branch that all customers must interact with before the door will open? This interface theoretically is for the purpose of providing the customer with an easy way to perform simple transactions autonomously. It is an enhanced customer service tool. However, the perception would be that these machines block customers from getting access to the knowledgeable human employees eager to provide personalized and expedient service inside the bank. Would many people continue to use this bank and be satisfied? Would that affect the customers’ perceived value of the ATM machine? Any technology that stands in the way of a customer reaching a CSR would be just as quickly vilified and rejected as the IVR.

Now, we need to ask ourselves: If the IVR offers good customer support by providing helpful problem solving to most questions, why all the customer frustration and ill will toward IVR systems? We believe, based on our research, that customer frustration stems from the miscalculation of the limitations of automated self-service using voice response by the industry. An automated self-service system should provide the information to the customer in a clear, concise, and quick (CCQ) manner or transfer them so they can speak to an agent. And, like an ATM, no one should be forced to use it unless the business is closed.  

How do you improve IVR design?

The first aspect is that IVR software needs to cater to the user, not to the company. This requires that the company review the business rules, associate skill group mapping, and gain up front information on who their customers are and what they may need based on the status of their accounts. An IVR system can be designed to be proactive by having the ability to access the customer database using either the Auto Number Identifier (ANI) provided, or request the caller’s account number. Once received, the system can review the account and provide information specific to that caller. For example, if he or she has a bill due within a few days of the call, ask “are you calling to make a payment?” or if they are past due “would you like to set up a payment plan?” When customer calls are transferred to an associate, the associate should know all the information that the caller provided to the IVR; and ask different security questions to ID the caller.

A customer-centric Voice User Interface (VUI) design can achieve and strengthen customer satisfaction by enabling users to navigate IVR options with ease and to get their tasks resolved quickly and efficiently. Here are 10 best practices for VUI designers to make the IVR a go-to destination for customers: 

1. Always provide customers with a live agent option.

Although an IVR menu should be designed so that it’s easy for customers to navigate and locate answers to their questions, the first rule of the IVR is providing customers with an option to reach a live associate. A well-designed IVR menu should continuously offer incoming calls a live associate option.

2. Make ‘call recording’ announcements only on transfers.

Customers understand that calls are often recorded for quality assurance purposes. But they don’t need to hear constant reminders of this – nor do they want to. Make call recording announcements known only when it’s necessary to do so.

3. Offer a non-primary language at the end of the initial menu.

Placing this option early in the IVR experience is helpful to customers and recognizes their needs and preferences.

4. Keep main menu options to 30 seconds.

Simplifying the main menu options strengthens the customer experience while making the IVR experience more efficient.

5. The IVR should sound like an associate.

VUI designers can further humanize the IVR experience by entering pre-recorded voice responses that sound like an associate. This includes using the right inflection and tone at the right moments (e.g., “You’re calling about your balance, is that right?”).

6. Use voice recognition and silence for turn-taking.

Strong voice recognition is important so the IVR software can provide natural pauses to allow customers to enter information or the option to speak just as they would in a conversation with an associate. Be sure to allow IVR users enough time to respond.

7. Allow barge-in for all prompts.

If your IVR application doesn’t have speech and voice recognition to allow callers to interrupt make sure the prompts are worded so that callers know they shouldn’t speak until the prompt is completed.

8.Make sure instructions are provided only when an error is made.

IVR users can easily become testy and frustrated with long messages or waiting times. There’s no need to further irritate them by issuing superfluous instructions.

9. Error correction should always use different words to re-prompt the caller.

One of the frustrations for IVR users is when they get stuck on a prompt or a command. To prevent this from happening, rephrase the options available for callers if they make a mistake with a prompt.

10. Information provided by a customer to the IVR should be extended to an associate in the contact center.

One of the greatest frustrations for customers is having to repeat information, so make sure when you route calls from the phone system to a live associate, the customer doesn't have to explain their request from the beginning again.

A well-designed IVR system is a win-win proposition

The bottom line is: If an IVR user interface is set up correctly, people are not only willing to use it; they would prefer to use it. However, if there are messages up front, too many options or menus deep without the ability to get to an associate (by pressing "0"), and long prompts, the callers will shut down and demand an associate. By following best practices such as shortening prompts, being both touch tone and speech enabled, and removing marketing or other superfluous informational messages, the cus­tomer will not hesitate to use the system. However, one bad system does ruin it for many good IVR systems. Hence, the popular disdain and ridicule for IVR calls is sustained and propagated as a sort of modern technol­ogy folklore.

This, of course, is where we come in. As part of our customer experience omnichannel solutions we fix inefficient IVR systems for our clients. We return to the core functionality of the business and partner with our customers to provide a more customer-centric environment. We have found that a well-designed IVR system, as part of a larger omnichannel strategy, can be a win-win proposition for both the customer and the company that implements it. It not only provides better customer service it also assists in the reduction of overall call center costs by deflecting call volume to the automated self service that IVRs can provide.