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How to dodge an IVR design disaster

A well designed IVR should increase your service efficiency and reduce customer effort. When done poorly they are infuriating.  When done well, they drive win-win outcomes for companies and customers.


Here are 7 IVR design best practices to follow:

1. Never offer more than 5 options per menu

Don’t turn your IVR into a memory test! There should be no more than four options, plus a ‘for anything else’ catch-all option.   It should take a maximum of twenty seconds to get through all options.

Design your IVR so that it’s as easy as possible for as many people as possible. That means the most popular options should be the first options. Use your call data to identify the most common reasons for calling, and make these your ‘1’ and ‘2’ options.

Any more than 5 options in the first menu and it’s time to think seriously about having a separate inbound number and IVR.


2. No more than 3 menus per call

No IVR should have more than 3 menus to navigate except for surveys.   If your IVR has more than 3 you are trying to cater to too many people with differing needs. Again, once you reach this level of complexity it’s time to set up a new inbound number and IVR for a subset of your customers.

Remember, customers are OK with IVRs but grow frustrated when they add to customer effort rather than reduce it.  Customers are calling to solve a problem and extended IVRs become a barrier to finding the right path to resolution.


3. Provide an option for all common call types

One of the most common IVR complaints is that none of the options apply. As ridiculous as this sounds, it’s very common. Call queues and inbound phone numbers are often re-allocated while the places these numbers are advertised remain unchanged.

Go through your product collateral and Google search for your phone number to see all the places it is showing up.  These all need to be kept up to date, or removed.

An obvious giveaway is a high percentage of calls needing to be transferred to live operators early in the IVR.


4. Avoid repetitive on-hold messaging

Know your average call wait time and its variance. Too many companies look at average wait time only and plan their on-hold messaging based on that. Big mistake.

It’s no use planning for a 30 second wait time when it’s actually 10 seconds all day except for the half hour after 7pm when it averages 15 minutes.

Your 30 second recorded message will be cut off for the vast majority of callers.  And those calling in the peak period after 7pm will be driven insane by the repetitive 30 second looped message!

And it should go without saying, but don’t insult customers by telling them you value them as they wait for 15 minutes.  It’s a fast track to lasting brand damage.


5. Offer call back

Rather than keep customers waiting, offer a call back if wait time exceeds 3 minutes. This should be the exception. If call wait times regularly exceed a minute you need to look at resourcing.


6. Please, please stop telling customers to go to your website.

Customers know you have a website. They made the choice to call.  Directing customers to your website just sounds like what it is – a cost-cutting initiative. Stop it.


7. Use voice biometric authentication

Mothers maiden name, best childhood friend, account password, account PINs. Frustrated yet? Your customers are.

Beyond the customer impacts, traditional knowledge-based authentications drive cost blowouts through extended average call handling time (AHT). Especially when customers can’t remember their details.

Best practice is now to authenticate callers based on their voiceprint via voice biometric authentication. By repeating a passphrase – often “my voice is my password” – customers can be authenticated quicker and have problems solved faster.

Voice biometric authentication is now as reliable as fingerprint authentication, while costs to deploy the technology have plummeted.

From a business perspective, it’s not uncommon to shave 45-90 seconds from average call handling time by adopting voice biometric authentication. This translates into phenomenal cost savings.


The best IVR technology enables IVR best practice. For a cloud IVR solution that lets you set up an IVR in minutes, and make changes in real-time, trial Upwire here.

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