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21 Best Practices for Designing a Great IVR System

by Kent Mao | Published On April 24, 2024

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems can help automate your call center and provide customers with self-service options.

An IVR system is one of the most valuable and essential tools in your contact center. It ensures you can handle inquiries faster, route callers to the correct agent or department, and improve customer experiences overall.  

However, the success of your company’s IVR solution hinges on your ability to implement the right menus, scripts, and automation technologies.    

Ready to get started? Here are 21 best practices that you can use to design and optimize your IVR phone system.  

1. Map out a phone tree 

A phone tree is the automated menu that routes callers to a specific department or extension based on their input. To design an effective phone tree, you’ll need to consider which departments will be included, the extent of the self-service options offered, and at which point callers should be transferred to a live agent.  

Map the structure of your phone tree using user-friendly design software, such as Microsoft Visio or Lucidchart. Consider factors such as: 

  • The main greeting messages 
  • Language options  
  • General information and announcements 
  • Different departments and queues 
  • Input options (keypad entry or voice) 

2. Keep menu options short and simple 

Customers don’t want to listen to long audio messages when they contact your company before being able to choose the next step. The longer your list of options, or the more complex the message, the more likely it is your customers will hang up.  

Analyze the typical journey your customer takes when connecting with your business over the phone and keep the list of menu options as simple as possible. It’s generally recommended that you limit the number of main menu options to 5 or less. 

3. Use clear and concise language 

Simplicity is key to delivering an excellent customer experience. Get straight to the point when writing IVR scripts, using clear, concise, and jargon-free language.  

On the other hand, make sure to keep it professional and maintain your brand’s tone of voice. The last thing you want is to rush through the IVR recordings and come off as too casual or unprofessional.  

4. Prioritize popular menu options 

Based on your analysis of common customer journeys, you should be able to identify the most popular menu options chosen by your customers. Putting those options first on the menu can help lower customer issue resolution times and call volumes.  

For instance, by auditing your customer support tickets and previous conversations you might realize that you receive the most queries about returns. Placing the “return support” option first limits the time customers spend interacting with your IVR. 

5. Place extension numbers at the end 

When writing IVR scripts, remember to say the menu option before the number, not the other way around. For example: “For sales, press 1” not “Press 1 for sales.”  

This guarantees that the caller will always hear key information before the action, creating a better user experience and a more streamlined phone tree.       

6. Consider authentication and security features 

Call centers are under mounting pressure to ensure they keep personal data safe. To adhere to current regulatory guidelines and provide customers with peace of mind, you need to be able to authenticate and validate each caller.  

While knowledge-based authentication (KBA) methods are common, leveraging more advanced solutions, like biometric or multi-factor authentication could streamline the experience for your customers and reduce potential risks.  

7. Provide self-service options 

One of the biggest benefits of an IVR system is the ability to provide self-service options to callers. Today, many customers prefer to avoid speaking to a human agent whenever possible.

Self-service options can help customers resolve issues faster and spend less time waiting in queues, which leads to higher satisfaction rates. Offering self-service options also reduces the workload on your customer service team, freeing up your agents’ time so they can focus on more complex queries.

Try incorporating self-service options that enable customers to complete tasks automatically, like paying a bill, scheduling appointments, or checking an order’s status. 

8. Use a natural, human-sounding voice 

Due to the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence, consumers are becoming more comfortable with AI interactions. However, most still don’t want to feel like they’re speaking to a bot. When recording IVR prompts and scripts, make sure to use a natural, human-sounding voice to put your callers at ease.  

You can record IVR messages yourself using a voice recorder or outsource the task to a company that specializes in it. If you decide to use an AI voice generator, there are many text-to-speech voice generators to choose from. Make sure the one you select has a range of natural-sounding tones and dialects to improve the caller experience.    

9. Offer multiple language options 

Even if your company only serves customers in a specific region or country, there’s no guarantee that customers won’t contact you with different language preferences. People come to your business from all walks of life, and your IVR system should be accessible to everyone.  

For an optimal IVR experience, it’s best to give your customers the option to listen to menus and interact in various languages.  

10. Allow customers to skip menu prompts  

For many customers, the only thing worse than long, complex menus is having to wait for your IVR system to finish giving all the options before they can make a choice. To overcome this, make sure callers can skip menu prompts whenever they choose.  

Include a barge-in option that allows your customers to opt out of listening to the rest of the menu if they already know which number to dial.  

11. Provide the option to speak to a live agent 

55% of people say that being able to reach a live agent easily is the most important feature of a customer service center. While you might want to automate as many processes as possible with your IVR system, it’s crucial that customers still have the chance to speak directly to a live agent.  

Offer the option to speak to a representative immediately, wherever possible. This will provide a better experience for customers who might have issues navigating your IVR system. 

12. Avoid having customers repeat themselves 

33% of customers say that having to repeat information to different support representatives is the most frustrating part of interacting with a call center. When building your IVR menus, avoid asking customers to provide the same information more than once.  

For instance, if you ask customers to press “2” to speak to the billing department, don’t ask them whether they’re calling about billing or another service again later. 

13. Offer a callback option 

Long wait times are a significant frustration for many customers. While some customers will be willing to wait a few minutes to be connected to the right agent, others won’t have the time to sit on hold. Offer callers the option to receive a callback when an agent becomes available instead. 

This can help you improve the customer experience as well as help your team manage high call volumes by reducing the number of customers waiting on the line.  

14. Offer voice command options 

Although the most common way to navigate an IVR menu is with a keypad, voice command is becoming a popular choice for many companies. Try leveraging intelligent IVR systems that use automatic speech recognition and natural language processing to enable voice-based navigation. 

Make sure a keypad navigation option is still available for customers who prefer it, or for customers with an accent or speech impairment that might struggle with voice commands.  

15. Answer frequently asked questions 

While many customers today use online channels to address frequently asked questions, some still prefer to call your business directly. Answering frequently asked questions in your IVR menu, such as how to check order status or cancel an account, can save your customers’ time.  

Additionally, including FAQs in your IVR menu can help direct callers to self-service options and reduce the number of callers being passed on to live agents.  

16. Make wait times as pleasant as possible 

Any time spent waiting on hold can be frustrating for your customers. While you might not be able to eliminate call queues entirely, you can make the waiting experience more pleasant. Play relaxing, cheerful music while customers wait and regularly update them on their position in the queue. 

Consider using the time your customers spend on hold to inform them about other service options you offer. You can do this by playing audio recordings, sometimes called broadcast messages, while callers are waiting in queue.  

17. Record and monitor calls 

Recording calls is crucial not just for quality assurance purposes and compliance, but also for collecting valuable insights into the customer journey and enhancing employee training initiatives.  

Leverage a call recording solution alongside your IVR system that can quickly capture information, transcribe speech to text, and automatically extract key data such as customer sentiment and competitor mentions.   

18. Integrate with other tools 

Your IVR system shouldn’t be isolated from the rest of your call center technology. Integrating your IVR solution with other tools can significantly improve employee productivity and the overall agent experience.  

For example, integrating your IVR with an agent dashboard can enable teams to rapidly access contact information. Connecting your IVR to your CRM platform can provide agents with additional context by automatically surfacing customer profiles when an agent answers a call.  

19. Use intelligent call routing 

One of the main purposes of an IVR system is to ensure callers are quickly directed to the correct department or agent for their needs. By leveraging intelligent call routing tools, you can improve this process and go beyond simply matching customers to agents based on their availability.  

With the right technology, you can identify where to route customers based on a multitude of factors: from the caller’s intent and sentiment to their previous interactions with the company and even agent skill sets.  

20. Keep menu options up to date 

As your business evolves, so should your IVR system. Update your menu regularly as you introduce new services, products, and features to customers. Pay attention to your call center analytics and make changes to your IVR menus and phone tree based on which menu options are receiving the most traffic.   

Ensure broadcast messages are kept up to date to give your callers the latest information about your business and any limited-time promotions or offers. 

21. Leverage post-call surveys and analytics tools 

The more data you can collect on your IVR system’s performance, the more you can optimize the experience for callers and agents over time. Leveraging analytical tools will give you insights into how you should arrange your menu options and which FAQs you need to answer. 

Post-call surveys will give you an opportunity to gather direct feedback from your customers on how you can improve their experience, such as by offering callback options or reducing wait times.  

Build your IVR system with ComputerTalk

For many companies, the IVR experience will be the first opportunity they have to leave a lasting impression on customers and highlight their approach to delivering excellent service.  

Designing a user-friendly IVR system will boost your chances of pleasing your customers, while simultaneously reducing operational costs and improving agent productivity.  

If you’re brand new to IVR systems and don’t know where to start, our team at ComputerTalk would be happy to assist. Schedule a call today to learn more about different IVR systems and what solutions your business might need.    

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