The IVR Clinic – with Allison Smith: #2 of The 15 Commandments of IVR

By Allison Smith

The 15 Commandments of IVR

Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Create Fake Mailboxes

About a year ago, I recorded an IVR for a small independent dry cleaning business – not really a Mom and Pop company; they were located in outlets across three States, and were doing very well – they prided themselves on fitting in seamlessly into the communities they served and they were at just the right size for their comfort level. When I recorded their system, a request for a total re-record came in (never a good thing) but their reason for the redo was unique and sticks with me to this day: my usual professional tone was seen as too “highbrow” for them. Created too much of a “big company” impression. They didn’t want to be “Martinizing”; they wanted to sound “local”….friendly….and accessible.

This is in sharp contrast with how *most* companies I voice for would like to come across – I would estimate that 80% of the companies who hire me to voice their systems are small and would like to sound bigger. Almost all firms have their eye on growth; the best way to do that is to create the impression that they’re already there.
A common technique to “manufacture” the impression that a company is bigger than it really is, is to invent a lengthy menu of mailboxes which technically don’t exist – an impressive, vast menu which goes on for 12, 13, 14 options or more – all in an attempt to articulate to the caller that they are legitimate; the caller has reached a well-staffed company who needs *that many* mailboxes to keep all requests organized and processed appropriately.

Many (or all) of the mailboxes will re-route to a single point of contact, but as pointed out by Matt Florell of Vicidial (who, along with Jim Van Meggelen, acts as my “IVR Senseis” for this series of articles – their input has already been invaluable) – it’s easy for the person in charge of monitoring the various mailboxes to overlook one or two of them for a couple of weeks, and “then they end up with 300 voicemails and only notice it when Asterisk hits its limit,” warns Matt. “Sending voicemails to an email address and auto-deleting from Asterisk does help with this,” continues Matt: “..but the flip side to that is that your company’s SPAM filter starts to think these messages are SPAM and deletes them.”

I submit to all IVR designers the importance of keeping the opening menu as simple as possible to navigate around – and this means to only feature the mailboxes which are actually assigned. It respects the caller’s time; it streamlines the system, and it prevents missed messages and botched follow-through. The idea that a more impressive feeling is created with a menu full of unnecessarily bloated options is counter what you’ve possibly encountered in your own telephone experiences – personally, I’m usually grateful for three or four simple options, narrowing down the likelihood in my mind that I have chosen the correct department for my inquiry.

Next installment in The IVR Clinic’s “15 Commandments of IVR” is #3: Keep Things Simple.
Thanks for reading!

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There Are 4 Comments

  • Kyle says:

    I’m inserting voicemessages into my email via a script that dumps it in via imap instead of running sendmail. Upside no spam filter to worry about, downside is my asterisk box has my email password.

    Also, http:// is missing from the link on your picture

  • jtodd says:

    Fixed the link on the picture – thanks for catching it! Also: did you know there is an imap functionality built into the voicemail that comes with Asterisk? It’s been there for a while, but may not be in whatever version you’re running.

  • Gus says:

    It amazes me how some people still belive that complex is better. Simplicity must always be the guideline. If there should be any complexity, it should lie on the system, not on the user.

  • You are right on target IMHO! Bigger is not better… I personally tire of places that have long menus, and one of our employees just today tried to call some people that we do work for, to find out they have a Sales Dept, Technical Support Department and some other department that goes to the same person. “7333 for Sales, 7334 for Support”, egads… Give me a break.

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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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