The IVR Clinic – with Allison Smith: #11 of The 15 Commandments of IVR

By Allison Smith

Commandment #11: “Don’t Go Overboard With Niceties”
We’re in the homestretch now! Only four more Commandments to tackle after this installment – and today’s topic has raised a lot of debate and excitement amongst my “IVR Dojos” – my IVR experts who have helped and advised me along the way with this blog. Today, we’re dealing with Commandment #11: “Don’t Go Overboard With Niceties” – a very bad tendency that a good many IVR writers and the designers of on-hold systems in particular fall victim to.

We are sensitive to the fact that customers and clients might have a bit of a delay before they are assisted by a live agent – and rightfully so. We are more than aware that their time is valuable and that waiting – for even a relatively short period of time – can erode the customer’s patience and heighten the possibility of them hanging up and going elsewhere to have their needs met.
As someone who is enlisted daily to voice telephone prompts and on-hold systems for a variety of industries, I can tell you that the over-use of “niceties” – endless platitudes which gush all over the customers, thanking them for holding, and constantly congratulating them for their patience – after awhile come across as disingenuous, and actually harms your relationship.

Whenever I’m asked to voice an on-hold system whose total run time is in excess of 10 minutes, I’m convinced that this indicates a flaw in call response time and a glaring inefficiency of the company’s call center staff. A hard look at your call drop-out rate will let you know if your response time – with the call either ideally retrieved by an live agent – but also giving the caller other options (immediate call-back, voicemail) – needs an overhaul. If your on-hold system is peppered with a seemingly endless loop of “We know your time is valuable!” and “You patience while on hold is appreciated!” this actually works against your goal of placating the customer: if heard too frequently, it comes across as insincere; it also reminds the customer – on a continuous basis – how long they’ve been asked to wait. Show me my time is truly valuable by taking my call –and sooner than later, please.

My advice is always to keep their time on hold as brief as is humanly possible – that’s the dream, anyhow. Keep your on-hold system deliberately concise, fact-filled, interesting – and thank them – once – for their understanding while they wait for service. Fine-tune your response time and make sure that the customer always has an out – either by a reliable call-back option (which stays true to its promise of keeping them in queue and stays loyal to that estimate of *when* they can expect a call-back) or a dedicated voicemail box which is serviced regularly and which doesn’t become a catch-all dumping ground for messages. By streamlining both prompts and on-hold messaging to be useful, informative, concise, and genuine, you’re maximizing your efficiency, and sending the strongest message you can to your customers that their patience is *most definitely* appreciated.

Join me here in two week’s time, when we’ll spend some time with Commandment #12: “Read The Copy Out Loud” – you may need to wait until the staff clears the office to try this one out, but amazing discoveries, inconsistencies, and glaring errors can be discovered about your IVR script if you simply read it out loud.
Thanks for reading!

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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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