9 IVR Best Practices You Need to Know

By October 27, 2014Best Practices, IVR

Interactive voice response (also known as IVR) is one of the most notorious service channels of all time. Originally introduced to decrease the amount of time agents needed to spend on the phone while increasing the number of problems solved. Unfortunately, IVR ended up creating brand new problems for the customer: long hold times, confusing menus and the continual inability to reach a rep. Today, only 13% of consumers think IVR is easy to use, and only 15% believe IVR use benefits them.

Luckily, IVR doesn’t have to be this way. Over two-thirds of consumers would prefer to use self-service technologies like IVR rather than speak with a live agent; they just haven’t had a great experience with it until now. Here are nine IVR best practices on to help you create a better service experience for both companies and customers.

1. Let customers communicate how they want. Customers don’t think in terms of channels; they’re just trying to solve their problem by any means available. Don’t be afraid to give the caller the option to “speak with someone at any time by pressing star.” If you have the ability to channel pivot, you can provide them the option to switch to text message automation instead of voice automation so they can use the channel they want. It’s not just giving them the option to change the channel; it’s making each existing channel better for the customer.

2. Keep it short and simple. Remember that people have no ability to visually see the options: they have to listen to the options one by one, so do everything you can to not include more than four options at a time. The longer the prompt, the more you risk losing their attention and forgetting what they heard in the beginning. Find every opportunity to be extremely concise. For example, “If you are interested in talking with someone about our sales offerings, press…” can become “For sales, press…”

3. Maintain context. Almost 90% of customers hate having to repeat their problems multiple times. Keep track of the information gathered in the IVR so that when the customer is finally connected with an agent, they can get right down to business instead of going over the minutiae. The process goes a whole lot faster and the customer doesn’t get flustered trying to get you to pronounce their hometown correctly.

4. Option before action. Have you ever been in an IVR where you are distracted, hear the option you want and snap back, only to find that the IVR has moved onto the next option? You then have to sit through the entire menu again. Each prompt has an option and an action–the best practice is to give the option first and the action second. For example, if you want a customer to press one to contact sales, you would say “For Sales” (the option) before “Press One” (the action). That way you don’t risk them forgetting what to press and having to restart. If you determine that the system has a hard time understanding them, the primary prompts from then on out in the flow should over be carried out DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency, aka button pushing).

5. Be nice (but not too nice). Of course you want to be polite when you’re talking to a customer, but it’s important not to overdo it. Avoid using “please” for every request can become overly repetitious. If a customer completes a simple task like pressing a button, they don’t need to be thanked for it. On the flip side, if a customer has been waiting on hold for 20 minutes and gets connected to an agent, that would be an instance where you’d want to thank them for their patience.

6. Let customers bypass the system. For every customer happily using IVR, there’s another customer who would rather speak with a live agent ASAP. Don’t be afraid to give the caller the option to “speak with someone at any time by pressing star.” If you have the ability to channel pivot, you can provide them the option to switch to text message automation instead of voice automation. Avoid going any further than three menus deep–you will be testing the caller’s patience after that.

7.  Don’t make the same mistake over and over. If your customers get tripped up on one IVR step, Increase their chances of successfully navigating the IVR by making sure each re-prompt has different wording. The best practice is to start with voice recognition (e.g. “say Sales, say Support”) and then if unrecognized, give them the choices with different wording, then again in DTMF (“press one, press two”). If customers continue too a hard time with the voice recognition, present prompts from then on out in the flow should over DTMF options instead of voice recognition.

8. Don’t abandon your IVR. Just like any other piece of machinery, your IVR needs regular tune-ups to make sure it’s working correctly. If agents are handling more calls than usual or customers are hanging up without going through the IVR, it might be time to reevaluate things. Industry experts recommend reviewing an up-an-running IVR once a month; newer systems should be reviewed on a daily to weekly basis.

9. Add a personal touch. After your customer has used your IVR several times, you should start to notice a pattern in his or her behavior. Do they call in the same time every month to schedule an appointment? Are they consistently having trouble with one of your products? Do they call in at a specific time of day? After watching their behavior over a period of time, you should adapt your IVR to suit their needs based on their preferences and interaction history. Customers will appreciate the fact that you respect their time and will be more likely to use your IVR in the future.

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Photo by Flickr user Colum O’Dwyer.

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