The 15 Commandments of IVR
I am not an engineer of IVR systems; I do not write code, and I certainly don’t program or implement IVR systems. I am a professional voice talent who specializes in voicing IVR and auto-attendant systems — I have voiced platforms for large telcos and independent companies and organizations internationally; and I am probably best known for my work voicing the prompts for Asterisk, practically since its inception. Thanks to Asterisk, my voice can likely be heard — somewhere around the world — at any given moment of the day or night. I have been approached by Digium to blog directly on their site about the “science” of IVR — what makes a good IVR system flow; and conversely — what makes a system clunky and awkward to navigate around.
As I’ve alluded to: I’m no technical expert.
But from my experience in voicing IVR systems each and every day, I’ve acquired a bit of a working knowledge about the common pitfalls, and aspects which can radically improve the flow of an IVR. Through trial and error — and making the most out of badly written scripts while rejoicing in well-written ones — I can tell you what works and what likely won’t. I have arrived at a “Top Ten” list (well, actually, 15) of common pitfalls which I perceive to be the biggest barriers that get in the way of well-meaning companies just wanting to have an efficient method in which to guide their customers around their company’s structure, and their clients — who only want the path of least resistance (and least frustration) to interacting with the company. A point of clarification — and this was big watershed moment when this was pointed out to me by noted Asterisk guru Jim Van Meggelen: “IVR” seems to be a catch-all term which (we think) applies to a device which automatically transfers the caller to an extension without the intervention of an operator — this is actually an “Auto Attendant”. IVR — or Interactive Voice Response — is a technology that allows a computer to detect voice and DTMF keypad inputs or by speech recognition. In the telephony industry, “IVR” has come to be a generic term which has taken on the meaning of “Those Automated Prompts Which Guide You Around a Telephone Tree” (I’m guilty of genericizing that, too — my domain is theIVRvoice.com
— but to hedge my bets, I also immediately purchased theautoattendantvoice.com after Mr. Van Meggelen set me straight. I’m not taking any chances.) For the interest of simplicity, and the universality of its use, I will continue to use “IVR” as the catchall term which describes the automated nature of a telephony system. Even though it may be perpetuating a misnomer.
So on with that “Top 15 List”: If I had to narrow down the most common mistakes in writing and executing IVR scripts, I could probably boil them down into fifteen major “commandments” which should be broken only at your own peril (and only if you goal is to create a frustrating experience for your customer base):
1. Don’t Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span
2. Thou Shalt Not Create Fake Mailboxes
3. Keep Things Simple
4. Always Give Callers an Opt-“In”
5. Front-Load Important Information
6. Understand What Constitutes a “Prompt”
7. Understand The Effects of Proper Punctuation in Concatenation
8. Thou Shalt Not Give Directions To Your Office/Facility
9. Give a Pronunciation Guide for Proper Names and Place Names
10. Name Your Company Something That Needs No Special Instruction
11 Don’t Go Overboard with Niceties
12. Read The Copy Out Loud
13. Be Clear on Your Company’s Vision/Image — And Be Able To Explain That To Me
14. Don’t Front-Load Too Much Information in The Opening Greeting
15. Write in a Conversational Tone
Each Blog, I’ll spotlight one of these aspects, and explain in detail why following the above points will ensure a less-frazzled clientele, and you will enjoy the bonus of calls coming in following a nicely organized structure and being dealt with in a timely manner. Bliss!
A win-win for everyone!
Next blog, I’ll plant the all-important seed about attention spans. It’s by far the most pivotal of all the points. If you master this, your IVR karma will be impenetrable.