Top 2 IVR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By Matthew Hilton

Interactive Voice Response (IVR), also called Auto-Attendant (AA), systems are designed to ease the burden on both callers and call-takers. However, if they are not properly implemented, they often do the opposite and cause frustration. With many IVR solutions, the problem lies in how complicated they are to set up or a lack of features or abilities. These deficiencies cause companies to just do what they can with what their system provides, which is usually less than ideal and can lead to many IVR mistakes.

If you are looking for a way to provide your customers with an optimal calling experience, here are two of the top IVR mistakes and how you can avoid them.

IVR Mistake 1: Providing too much detail in your prompts

If you make changes to your IVR or if you get a lot of misplaced calls, it seems obvious to add additional language to help guide callers through the process. We’ve all heard: “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.” Or, the also ubiquitous “Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, or 3 for Latin.” In theory, these prompts will alert callers that changes have been made and they need to pay attention to make sure they select the correct option.  In reality, most people are so used to hearing these prompts that they don’t actually listen. They usually zone out until they hear something they need or they go ahead and press the number they already know. And, for people who call-in frequently, all that’s really happening is you’re introducing an artificial wait time or hold time they must sit through before they can proceed.

Solution: Provide only the necessary information

If you find there is a lot of idle time while callers listen to prompts or if you have more than a sentence or two for each IVR level, then you may want to reconsider the value of each statement to determine if anything can be truncated. Remember that less is more and you need to do everything you can to minimize wait times – and that includes listening to voice prompts.

IVR Mistake 2: Giving callers too many choices or irrelevant options

If you have a receptionist or reception group who is supposed to take overflow calls (i.e., callers who don’t enter a correct selection or pressed zero to speak with someone), but they seem to take more calls than expected, then callers are probably receiving too many choices to make a decision, they don’t have enough time to make a selection, or the list of options is not relevant to their needs.  

If there are too many choices on your IVR, callers will often wait and press zero to reach an operator. It’s a popular failsafe in case someone cannot find what they are looking for and they need some assistance. This failsafe, however, is well known, and if people feel they’re waiting too long to find the correct IVR option, many will simply press zero to be helped more quickly.

Solution: Minimize options and create a unique overflow option

Reducing the number of prompts that callers need to listen through increases the likelihood of them remaining on the line as all options play. Using a different overflow option instead of zero, star, or pound will keep callers from exiting out of the IVR menu before their needed option plays. Also, IVR messages like “If you need additional assistance press X” should be at the very end so that all other choices are heard first and your callers have a better chance of picking the correct solution on their own.

It’s also important to make sure your options are listed in the order of most frequently used to least frequently used to speed up the process. For example, as a business owner, if I know that 50% of my daily inbound call volume goes to Sales, 30% goes to Support, 5% goes to HR, 5% goes to Accounting, and 10% goes individually to employees’ extensions, which IVR do you think is going to yield the best results?

IVR Option 1:
Thank you for calling XYZ Company. Please listen carefully as we’ve recently changed our options. Press 1 for Accounting. Press 2 for HR. Press 3 for Sales.  Press 4 for Support. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. If you need additional assistance, please press 0 to reach an operator.

IVR Option 2:
Thank you for calling XYZ Company. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it now. For Sales, press 1. For Support, press 2. For HR, press 3. For Accounting, press 4. For all other inquiries, press 9. To repeat these options, press star.

In IVR Option 1, a standard IVR implementation is used with departments listed in alphabetical order, so there is some validity to this design.  However, there is also some descriptive text that could potentially be removed without harming the workflow. Also, they’re using the standard zero-out for help. I’d make the argument that IVR Option 2 is the much cleaner, more effective IVR.

Next Steps

Let’s discuss in the comments why IVR Option 2 makes more sense (or, if you disagree with me, I’d love to hear those opinions too).  

If you would like to learn more about how IVRs can improve customer experience and drive business growth, download our eBook Why is an IVR Important?

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About the Author

Matthew Hilton

Matthew is the Switchvox Product Marketing Manager for Digium. Matthew has spent the last 15 years in various IT roles working for multiple Fortune 500 companies and Value-Added Resellers. Not one to sit idly by, his job titles have included, Business Analyst, Systems & Network Engineer, VOIP Engineer, Programmer and Marketing Specialist. He graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a BA in English and a focus on Business Information Systems.

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