IVR tips – the good, the bad and the ugly

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a great tool with a bad rep. Despite its potential convenience and ease of use for companies and customers alike, setting up IVR is a task so rarely executed well, that it has become hated and dreaded by many. So what can you do to make your IVR system stand out from the hordes of ineffectual, repetitive, and confusing keypad-conversations that happen every day?


As with anything that you want done well, preparation is absolutely crucial. There are lots of steps you can take even before coming near starting to record your messages, which can help ensure your IVR system will be a success.

Consider using an IVR company

Getting the specialists in can sometimes seem like a waste of money, particularly when you might tell yourself you have plenty of staff already who have pleasant speaking voices. But enlisting professional help in this area is almost always worthwhile, and can make a huge difference to the final message that you put out to the public. Even simple word-changes or elimination of jargon which you hadn’t picked up on can make the entire experience smoother and simpler for your customers. What’s more, the overall feel of the system will be much more professional. Recording in a silent studio, with the proper equipment, and a professional voice artist will give a far more professional impression than a difficult to understand, garbled delivery which can hardly be made out through the low rumble of an everyday office environment in the background of the recording.

Figure out what message you want to convey

Choosing the voice of your company is obviously also really important. Think carefully about the ‘persona’ you want to create and convey – to do this, you should dedicate some time to working out your target audience. Which sections of your customer-base are most likely to be trying to access your IVR system? This will affect things like the age and gender of the actor you choose to voice your message, as well, of course, as the message itself. You might also like to consider using two different voices. Combining one male and one female speaker for the in-queue message, wait message, and on hold message can be a good way of retaining people’s attention while they wait to speak to an agent. It’s extremely important, however, to make sure that the menu-prompts are all voiced by one single person, as switching voices between prompts and menu levels can prove confusing.

A good thing to include within the message your customers will hear while they wait is your company motto, or something that makes your company stand out from its competition. Remember that this is a great opportunity to reinforce your brand, as your greeting message will be heard by a lot of people, and can have a big impact!

One thing that you need to try and make sure you don’t include is very technical jargon. Although in some, specialist areas, it can reassure your customers they are in the right place, make them feel in-the-know, and give a professional impression, for most people it simply alienates callers. Get somebody outside the business to read through the messages before they’re recorded, and take out any specialist vocabulary which the average caller might not understand.

Map out all the different levels and options you will need

You don’t want too many, as customers can end up getting completely lost and frustrated, often giving up with the call altogether. Aim for around three or four levels in total, including the main menu. Within each of these levels, you also want to ensure you only have three or four options – otherwise, people may not even be able to remember what the first option was by the time they reach the end. Remember that nobody wants to waste their valuable time listening to long, confusing, and repetitive lists of options, most of which are probably not relevant to their needs.

You will obviously need to decide the order the different levels and options appear in. Try to do this in the ways that seem to make most natural sense. Often, asking friends, family, or real customers to test out your system before it’s put in place can be a really good idea. They can provide honest, real feedback about whether the flow of the options made sense and was easy and convenient to use. Of course, you should always start by putting the most popular, frequently selected options first.

Plan your commands, and keep them consistent

The way the different options are delivered is also important, but extremely simple. Just remember that you should give the option FIRST, and the corresponding key to hit SECOND. People are listening out for an option that is relevant to what they need assistance with, not listening out for a number. It’s therefore much easier for customers if you structure the announcement: ‘for calls regarding orders which have not yet arrived, press 3’, than if you say ‘press 3 for calls regarding orders which have not yet arrived’.

If you ask customers to hit # or * after selecting their option on level 1, make sure you continue to do it on the rest of the levels. If you can hit 0 to speak to an agent in level 1, 0 should not suddenly become one of the options in the menu on level 2, but remain a way to speak directly to an agent throughout. Consistency is crucial – particularly as people may not be paying extremely close attention if they have been on the line for a long time.

Putting it all into action

Once you’ve planned out what you want to say, how you want to say it, and who you want to say it, you can start fitting together all the different pieces.


Your chosen actor should have a full, jargon-free script by this point, and a slot in a quiet studio booked for the recording. Final things for them to remember when the recording is taking place include smiling throughout, to create a warm, friendly impression to callers. You should also be careful about the pace that the messages are delivered in: too quick and people won’t be able to make out what is being said, to slow and they will get bored and frustrated. In either case, you’ve lost them, and there’s a good chance they will just give up and leave.

Also make sure that before important information is given, a warning is issued and a gap left to allow people to find a pen and paper. You should also then give the option for the message to be replayed.

During the call

You should make sure there is always a set button which customers can press to be redirected to an agent – at any time during the call. Make this one of the first things they hear after they’ve dialled the number, and repeat it at every level. You should try and include other useful navigation options throughout too, like repeating the message they’ve just heard, going back to the main menu, and going back to the previous level.

Similarly, you should set your system up so that callers can key in their option ahead of the message being completed. If they know what’s coming, they don’t want to have to wait for 4 more options to be read out before making their selection.

You also need to consider how to deal with invalid entries – that is to say, when a caller puts in a selection which contains too many, not enough, or simply the wrong numbers. If this happens, it is usually good practice to ask them to try again. If they get it wrong a second time, repeat the options again, in case they have misheard or forgotten. If they get it wrong again, route the call to a live agent for them to speak to.

Make sure that you don’t take callers off hold just to remind them that their call is important. The sound of being taken off hold could make them think they have finally gotten through, and prove extremely frustrating.

It’s also really, really important that you never hang up on a customer. You should not ask callers to hang up and call back later, or to hang up and call a different number. Also make sure agents don’t just disconnect after a task has been completed, or if a caller fails to provide necessary information.

Maintaining a professional impression doesn’t just mean not hanging up. When a caller is finally connected to the appropriate live agent, this agent should be provided with all the information the caller has already entered. They do not want to wait fifteen minutes to be asked ‘How can I help you today?’ – the agent should already know exactly what they need, and how to help.

After the call

Monitoring callers’ experiences is an important way to make sure your IVR system is the best it can be. Try and ask customers to review their experience (particularly as often only callers for whom the call was unsuccessful will speak to live agents, and so only getting their feedback may give you a one-sided impression), and provide suggestions for how it could be improved. This could be via an online survey, or simply with texts asking callers to rate their experience from 1 to 10 in by replying to an SMS.

Asking family and friends to call in can be really helpful, and a good way to gain honest, first-hand feedback. They can test out whether their ideas in the planning stages actually turned out to be right, or whether further tweaking might be necessary. Be willing to review and challenge and change every aspect of your IVR system, because it could make a really important difference.

You should also try to monitor at which stages people tend to hang up, as this will reveal which areas are weaker and most confusing or frustrating. By keeping an eye on things like this, you will greatly improve your future designs, and have a system which beats your competitions’ by far.

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