The IVR Clinic – with Allison Smith: #3 of The 15 Commandments of IVR

By Allison Smith

The 15 Commandments of IVR

Commandment #3: Keep Things Simple

So far in this Blog Series, we’ve covered the first two “commandments” of writing clean, easy-to-use IVR systems:

  • Commandment #1: Don’t Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span
  • Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Create Fake Mailboxes.

Both really key points: many writers of IVR systems feel like they have their callers “captive”, and that now that they have them listening them to their menu of options, now is a great opportunity to sell to them; to educate them in detail, and to reassure them that they’ve made the right decision by calling their company (which can be artificially made to sound bigger and more impressive than it actually may be by creating fake options and forcing callers to listen to the entire selection of options which, essentially, go nowhere.)

The customers who call into your business are busy people. They are probably over-stressed multi-taskers who simply want to accomplish what they need to accomplish in this call and move along. Your job – as the constructor of the telephone systems which “sorts” callers into appropriate departments – is to make their experience in your IVR as simplified and efficient as possible – hence Commandment #3: Keep Things Simple.

If it feels like I’m belaboring the point of simplicity, brevity, and clarity to death, I likely am. As someone who on a daily basis voices systems for a myriad of companies, I can tell you that I always have in mind – while I’m voicing the prompts – how it will feel when someone will call into this system. Will they let out a sigh, dejected, as they realize that in order to get to the department they need to speak with, they will *first* have to endure a commercial, emphasizing the benefits and wonderments of the company they’ve dialed? Will they become overwhelmed and confused by too many options – or options which are so similar as to confuse the decision of which to press? Will their selection be filtered down into too many confusing subsets?

It goes both ways: you will want to ensure that the information you’re asking for from callers is information which will not overload your organization, or make it a challenge to follow through. Just last week, I read a mailbox greeting which instructed the callers: “…For a faster response, please leave your name, number, and brief message explaining why you’re interested in partnering with us, along with your commitment level, your main passion, and the reason why you have decided to enter our industry.” You could really be inviting trouble there; most people wouldn’t likely take advantage of the situation and leave a half-hour long manifesto. But a surprisingly large number will. You need to invite that same clarity, brevity, and economy in a request for incoming information if you have any hope of boiling down the information gathered into a useful form and following through.

Reduce down the choices into the simplest options. Get callers to their needed department as quickly as possible. Don’t ask for information to be input – such as pin or account numbers – if the live agent is just going to ask for the information again. And above all: respect the caller’s time and energy.

Next blog: we’re going to be drilling deeper into the mechanics of sorting your callers into various departments, by giving them the option of not participating in the format you’ve designed at all. That’s right: we’ll be tackling Commandment #4: “Always Give Callers an Opt-In.”
Watch for the next blog entry in about two weeks time! Thanks for reading, and your comments are most appreciated!

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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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