Top 10 IVR Mistakes

By Allison Smith

IVR mistakesI have a few years under my belt voicing prompts for Asterisk systems and many other business phone systems, and I can tell you that there are some universal mistakes that I see on a consistent basis that deviate from IVR best practices. Most make sense if you simply think back to the last frustrating IVR you found yourself trying to navigate. So here they are — my top 10 IVR mistakes in no particular order:

  1. You Try To Make Your Company Sound Bigger

I have voiced intro messages which sometimes exceed 15-20 options — and most of them just re-route back to a single point of contact. You press accounts receivable, payable, tech support — it all ends up at the same friendly CEO/accountant/chief bottle washer. I’m a small company, too — so I understand the necessity in wearing numerous hats. Just be aware that too many options point to an obvious attempt to sound bigger.

  1. Your Most Critical Information is Buried at the Bottom

I recently voiced a system for a heart clinic with — see above — 12 different options to choose from, and the very last option said: “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up, and dial 911.” I’d put that first and foremost. If you were having crushing chest pains and happened to dial your cardiologist’s office instead of 911, wouldn’t you want to be set straight — sooner than later? That goes for customers who are having technical support issues with the internet service you provide/support — let’s give those people with an emergent need a gateway to get to a person — fast.

  1. You Give Lengthy Directions to Your Office/Facility

If you must provide an option with driving directions — and I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a good or necessary thing, especially with the prevalence of GPS features in all phones and most new vehicles — keep them as short, succinct, and as pertinent as possible. (“Turn left. You’ll see a war memorial on your left, and a Piggly Wiggly on the right..” is probably too much detail to give.)

  1. You Over-Estimate People’s Attention Spans

They’re shorter than you think. All previous points I’ve made so far point towards this basic fact: keep it short. Front-load it with the most crucial info at the top. Announcers and voice-over professionals have known for years that secret to a good demo is to put your best stuff at the beginning — front-load it the most impressive stuff. And don’t inundate people with more information than they need, especially at the all-important point of entry.

  1. You Want to Voice It at a Slow Pace

I suppose this is open to interpretation, and can be more of a judgement call than anything else in terms of how slowly you say the voice prompts.  For example, if I’m voicing a pharmaceutical information line geared at seniors, I’ve been asked to take a more meticulous, exacting pace — taking into consideration hearing issues and reaction time. Fair enough. For practically any other industry, particularly those dealing with high-tech, industry-forward aspects,  (especially if there’s a high chance of repeat callers) let’s fly through your phone options at a fairly energetic pace. People’s time is valuable; and their frustration levels can be exacerbated by an announcer’s plodding, leisurely pace.

  1. Mispronouncing Your Staff’s Names

When working with professional voice talent (or whomever is recording your voice prompts), it’s important to provide correct pronunciations for your team members. I’m pretty good at pronouncing place names (even those unfamiliar to me), and I’m pretty intuitive and a great guesser. But nowhere is there a greater chance of mispronouncing than with proper names — and it’s surprising how little direction I get with that. If you’re having someone voice a phone tree with *any* names where you think there might be multiple pronunciations or there’s a name that is often botched, please provide a pronunciation guide.

  1. You Go Overboard With Niceties

There isn’t a person who has been on hold in the last twenty years who hasn’t been thanked profusely for their patience, told that their business is appreciated, or that our time is valuable. We hear it so often, if fact, that it frequently comes across as disingenuous. I try my hardest to sound as sincere and earnest as possible when voicing such platitudes; I implore the writers of IVR and on-hold systems to re-think the over-peppering of scripts with too many niceties. People get it. They know you’re busy giving someone else the same legendary service that you look forward to giving them — just keep the glad-handling to a minimum.

  1. Your Company Name is Impossible to Pronounce

It’s understandable this is sometimes avoidable but I offer it as something to consider. I ran into an interesting dilemma after I chose the name for my company — The When looking at the web address or e-mail address: , for example, scores of people have said: “Oh! It’s…..THEIR” Umm, not exactly. It really has to be carefully dissected if you hope to have someone type it in correctly, and people need to understand the acronym IVR for it to make sense. That’s visual. I encounter many firms who have an unusual company name, which I have frequently gotten wrong until I was educated about the correct way to pronounce it. If I — a professional voice — gets it wrong, how often does the general public mispronounce it? Not to mention, it can be difficult to hear or understand on voice prompts. Think very carefully when naming your company about how the name sounds — and what the margin of error would be for mispronouncing it. If you have one of those challenging business names, just be sure to carefully enunciate on your IVRs so that it’s clear people have the correct number/place of business when calling.

  1. You Impart Too Much Company Information in the Opening Greeting

Save all but a brief company description for your on-hold component — in your opening message, saying the briefest of blurbs about what the company does is sufficient. I voiced an opening message that talked about the company’s history, how long they’ve been in business, the products they offer, and why they’re better than their competitors. All that would be great to play while someone’s on hold — not before any department options have been given.

  1. You Haven’t Read Your Copy Out Loud

Many glitches in awkward wording don’t make themselves evident when you’re simply scanning them visually — it’s really important to read your IVR script out loud to catch any odd phrasing and redundancies.

Want to learn more from Allison Smith on IVR best practices? Join us at Astricon 2016 and meet her in person!

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There's One Comment

  • Lukas GIbb says:

    Great article Allison. Some solid points. You forgot to mention that people should use you to record their prompts to keep it consistent with the wealth of default prompts that come with Asterisk. 🙂

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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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