The IVR Clinic – with Allison Smith: #7 of The 15 Commandments of IVR

By Allison Smith

The 15 Commandments of IVR

Commandment #7: “Understand The Effects of Proper Punctuation in Concatenation”
Despite the fancy title, this installment of the 15 Commandments of IVR is perhaps the simplest lesson to absorb about the writing of good, logical IVR trees – and one which virtually guarantees that you will get the proper intended pronunciation from your voice talent. Nothing is worse than prompts forged together from uncohesive, inconsistently-inflected fragments which clunk along strangely instead of flowing seamlessly. It’s very obvious when sound fragments meant for a specific aspect of a sequence are attempted to be used interchangeably throughout an IVR concatenation. Commandment #7 aims to remedy that.
I regularly get prompts posted on the Digium site, with lengthy explanations attached to them, such as: “Hi, Allison: this prompt will be at the beginning of the prompt, and followed by the number sequence of the customer’s pin number, so it should sound like you’re trailing off…kind of like: ”
You can easily save yourself the trouble of typing out a lengthy explanation if you simply adhered to a basic protocol when writing prompts – a painfully simple protocol involving nothing more than capital letters, ellipses, and periods.
Starting off a sentence with the capital letter:
“Your pin number”
…definitely lets the voice talent know that it’s the start of the thought, and when voicing it, we will “launch” the prompt as such, with a strong “start”.
Add ellipses after that phrase:
“Your pin number…”
…and we’re really in business now. This effectively communicates to the announcer that this phrase starts off strong and will be followed by something else – whether it’s the sequence of the customer’s pin numbers or something like: “…is incorrect.”
If you write:
“…your pin number.”
…I will instinctively know that this phrase is to concatenate with a previous thought, such as “Please press 9 to change…” but also needs to end in a finite way.
For bonus points: if you were to write:
“…your pin number…”
…you guessed it. I’m going to inflect the beginning in a neutral way (not a “strong start”) – because something will be flowing before this phrase…and I’m going to finish it off *not* in a finite, conclusive way either – because it’s obvious that something will be tagged along at the end (something like: “Please enter…your pin number…followed by the pound key.”)
Covering all bases by making sure that you have all possibilities necessary – for example: all key phrases have an “up-ending” cadence, a “down-ending” cadence, and a “neutral” cadence, you’ll be covered for all eventualities.
It seems glaringly basic; but these rudimentary rules of writing segments the right way will allow your voice talent to intuit what “treatment” to give the phrase in order for it to link successfully with other fragments and allow the system to flow in a conversational, non-mechanical fashion.
The next Commandment of IVR is derived from a common pitfall that many IVR writers stumble into – lengthy, long-winded directions to the business in question, which prompted commandment #8: “Thou Shalt Not Give Directions To Your Office/Facility”.
As always, thanks for reading! Watch for the next installment in two weeks!

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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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