The IVR Clinic – with Allison Smith: #4 of The 15 Commandments of IVR

By Allison Smith

The 15 Commandments of IVR

Commandment #4: Always Give Callers An “Opt-In”

We’ve built a solid foundation of the first three Commandments of IVR so far: we’ve promised to *Never* Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span (which, we’ve established, is considerably shorter than you might think…); we’ve vowed to not create fake mailboxes to make our companies sound grander than they really are; and to that end, we’ve pledged our undying goal to Keep Things Simple. We’re well on our way to building IVR systems which people will happily follow to the letter and joyfully obey every instruction!
Not so fast.

Today, we’ll explore the idea that even the best-designed IVR systems need a “safety switch”; a cut-off valve that will – in essence – enable callers to bail out of the menu at any time. In case people just don’t want to “play”, I’ve created Commandment #4: Always Give Callers An Opt-In.
Jim Van Meggelen, Asterisk wonk extraordinaire – and one of my “IVR Dojos” puts it best: “Your callers are not obligated to follow your script. If they get frustrated, they will either dial ‘0’ or hang up. Put most commonly used selections first,” he recommends.

It makes perfect sense: because you’re already committed to keeping things as simple as possible, to enable people to be sorted into the right “category” for service, it just makes sense to offer only the most widely used options. To offer the most *probable* options first. And to track how many people dump out altogether and select “0”. Jim adds: “A good IVR system will keep track of what choices were made (or not made). Use these reports to tweak your call flow. Note that if a large percentage of callers are pressing ‘0’. That is a sign that your IVR is not serving the needs of the caller.”
Jim recommends handling callers dialing ‘0’ by connecting them to a live operator rather than a more detailed sub-directory. “They’ve pressed ‘0’ for one of two reasons: 1) They want to talk to somebody live, or 2) Your IVR did not present them with the options they need. Either way, unless you want to upset and alienate your callers, you need to get them to a human being.”

The point we’re trying to get across: in a perfect world, *one* IVR option out a small selection will help every caller. It’s an imperfect world, so there must be a plan to address the eventuality that none of the options might be pertinent to your customer. Rather than have them opt out – hanging up and moving on to your competitor – let’s install an escape hatch…but one that is traceable; one that measures how many people had to resort to using it, and arrive at solutions of how to manage callers through a touch-key option instead of wearing out that ‘0’ button.
As only he can, Jim sums it up perfectly: “Do not try to change the callers. Instead change your IVR.”

Next installment in the “15 Commandments of IVR” series is one of my favorites – and one which I see violated almost every day in my job of voicing IVR scripts: #5: “Front-Load Important Information.”

Thanks for reading, and as always, your comments are encouraged and appreciated!

To learn more about IVR and voice prompts, visit our website!

Related Posts

No Comments Yet

Get the conversation started!

Add to the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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

See All of Allison's Articles