The IVR Clinic – with Allison Smith: #1 of The 15 Commandments of IVR

By Allison Smith

The 15 Commandments of IVR

Commandment #1: Don’t Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span

We’re embarking on a fifteen-part-series of blogs designed to assist in the writing of smooth-flowing, efficiently-working IVR systems — as the voice of Asterisk, I’m hoping that my experiences with recording IVR prompts daily will provide some insight into what I consider to be the pitfalls which leads to awkwardly-running and ineffective IVR systems, and ways to avoid them. Many purchases and re-sellers of Asterisk are frequently thrown into the position of having to draft IVR messages for themselves or their clients — hopefully this blog will facilitate the writing of clean, easy-to-navigate prompts.

The very first commandment we’ll delve into:  Don’t Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span is perhaps the pivotal and most important one of all — a good place to start. If you accomplish this one — it will be easy sailing going forward.

The number one mistake that most people make — when sitting down and coming up with a script that will greet their company’s callers — is over-informing in the opening “main” prompt. Packing way too much information and detail into what should be a concise, helpful directory which sole function is to welcome their callers and sort their request into the appropriate department. I encounter opening greetings almost every day which sound a little like this: (copied verbatim from an actual script. The names have been changed):

“Thank you for calling ABC Grommets — the award-winning grommets you’ve read about in Time and the Economist! Are you constantly disappointed in your grommet choice? Are you continually replacing grommets purchased from that *other* company? You’ve called the right place. Our grommets are 100% nickel, American made, and come in the widest spectrum of sizes and weights in the business. Your satisfaction is our complete focus. We pride ourselves on not only a superior product, but also the best service possible. We look forward to giving you the same care and attention that we’re famous for. If you know your party’s extension, please enter it now. Otherwise…”

They’re kidding, right? They’re actually wanting to  make customers listen to that gigantic welcoming speech — and this is *before* they’ve even been offered a list of extensions to choose from? Save the informational, “sales-y” content for your on-hold program. Don’t forget — it’s likely that customers who are cold-calling already know about your company via your website, and are quite possibly calling as a second-string of contact. By all means, confirm that they have the right ABC Grommets on the line (“Thank you for calling ABC Grommets — the #1 supplier of grommets to the Eastern Seaboard…”) but then, immediately start the process of dividing callers into extensions. Think about someone who calls your company multiple times, and how irritating it would be to have to listen to that entire, lengthy commercial more than once.  Defer to people’s time constraints (and patience levels) and keep your opening greeting as concise, grabby, interesting-without-being-wordy, and as humanely short as possible.

Keep it simple. Keep it short. Resist the temptation to use your main greeting as a way of dazzling customers or overloading them with information now that you have them “cornered”. Impart only the basic amount of information to set the tone and to best shuffle your customers to the appropriate department — and never forget that the purpose of a good opening greeting is to organize your callers to the right department, so that they may be best served, and your staff’s time is spent most effectively. Plain and simple. Keep this maxim about brevity — and attention spans — in your mind as you draft *all* the options in your phone tree, and you’ll have a smooth, succinct system that’s a joy to navigate around. OK, maybe not a “joy”. But not something people dread.

It might help to remember *your own* last frustrating time spent on the phone when you were trying to work your way painfully slowly through an IVR. I can almost promise you that a lot of that powerless feeling you encountered came from having to listen to too much, and having to part with even more precious time.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our “IVR Commandments” series, where I expose another time-waster: “#2: Thou Shalt Not Create Fake Mailboxes“.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment. And watch for the next installment in about two weeks time!

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About the Author

Allison Smith

If you’ve listened to the public airwaves, used an automated phone system, participated in a phone survey, or even used a talking thermostat, you’re familiar with Allison Smith. One of the most prevalent telephone voices in the world today, Allison has voiced platforms for Vonage, Bell Canada, Cingular, Verizon, Qwest, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom – as well as being the voice of the Asterisk Open Source PBX. Clients include Marriot Hotels, 3M, Pfizer, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America and EBay among many others. Her website is and

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