So, you have an IVR solution, but you don’t know if it’s a good one. I can help you with that, as can anyone who picks up the phone and calls your business. The other day I called a customer service line for a pretty well-known company in my area. The purpose of the call was to speak to a representative about my recent payment. The call started with a menu option, as do most IVR’s these days, where I waited to choose the best option. It was after I pressed “1” that I was put on hold to talk to the billing department.

I could only be patient for so long.

If you know me, you know that eh, I’m not that patient. After 15 minutes of being on hold (I was pleasantly surprised at how long I stayed calm) that the answering service hung up on me.

I was mad!

So, why? Why after all that time did it hang up? I called at 4:45, waited those 15 minutes, and they closed at 5:00.


Hope, pray, visual IVR goes truly viral one of these days.

Here are 10 tips for an IVR, from an impatient person’s prospective a.k.a. the majority of your callers, that just want the freakin’ IVR to get straight to the point!


Tip #1: Brand Your IVR

There’s nothing more intriguing than a clear and concise voice talking to you. The best thing about being able to customize your IVR is that, if you’re someone like me, it usually takes you a few tries to formulate the question you really want to ask. Do you have core values like my company? If so, make sure you create a clear definition of that through your IVR. There’s nothing like being turned off to an IVR system — chances are that person will a) not call in again, and figure out a different, possibly more aggressive way to contact you, or b) become so frustrated that they don’t even want to do business with you.

Think about it.

If they don’t even understand what your automated voice is trying to say, chances are they don’t even want to know what your people sound like. Think: What do I want the customer to think after they hang up? I’m guessing the majority of you would want them to say, “wow, that was easy,” not “wow, that was the most painful phone experience ever.” Having a powerful message/phone greeting reinforces your brand. Keep it short and…

Tip #2: Keep it simple people!

When we read, “keep it simple”, we think about “keep it simple stupid” or “K-I-S-S.” I never fail to forget thanks to Michael Scott, reference here. No one person wants to call into an IVR only to have to remember 10 different menu options. You may as well say, “grab your pen and paper this is going to be a while.”

Tip #3: Offer a way out!

If you don’t offer an option to talk to a human, then chances are someone like me, will write into your company very, very mad telling you that your “IVR system sucks” and “all I wanted to do was talk to an actual person.” Please… please… always have the option to talk to a live agent when available.

Tip #4: Be Clear and Persistent

Telling someone that you have an order number for them, or an account number is important to the caller! Give them a second to locate a pen and paper. Don’t give them a half an hour or anything, but enough time. I would say always include an option to repeat the information. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to go through the IVR system, just to get one little detail that could have easily been repeated. Jargon or Slang = no no. Make sure you are clear on what you want from your caller. Your 67-year-old Grandpa doesn’t want to be talked to like he’s 25. Don’t use slang, like H.A.M. For those who don’t know, here’s my generation’s definition. For Grandpa, this is the stuff at the butcher store that he gets a pound of every week. Just don’t do it.

Tip #5: Easy Navigation

It’s also important to make the system easy to navigate so customers can quickly get their questions answered. Who the heck wants to listen to Vidia, the IVR voice, go through 1) a large menu and then 2) submenus within the large menu and then 3) menus within the submenus. Talk about confusing!

Tip #6: Don’t hang up!

Avoid hanging up on callers. Even if you have a high call volume, don’t hang up on your caller. Chances are you are going to get a nasty call after that. Yes, even if you tell your caller that there are a high number of calls, and then asked them politely to call back later or visit the website, and then hung up on them instead of offering a callback option. No… no… no. Instead, leave the decision to hang up to the caller, believe it or not, it makes for a better customer experience.

Tip #7: One Voice

Avoid switching voices in the IVR. Hearing different voices will make the person feel like they belong in the looney bin. Okay, not literally, but it doesn’t make a business look very professional. Best practice is to use one consistent and professional voice throughout the recording. Do not use a computerized voice. Would you want to listen to a robot? The answer is no.

Tip #8: Extension Numbers 101

Put the department before the extension. A good prompt will say, “For Sales, Press 1” not “Press 1 for Sales.” Why? Callers want to know where they are going first before they get there. You wouldn’t ever type an address into the GPS without knowing the actual name of your destination. If you put the extension first, the caller is not likely to associate the number with the department, or they will have to go through the menu again, and then once they finally reach a live agent, well… you know, they won’t be happy. P.S. don’t forget to tell callers they can enter a known extension at any time. Personally, I would say this from the get-go. When I’m returning calls, I want to know that I can enter the extension the person gave me right away, rather than having to listen to their IVR menu.

Tip #9: No Long Greetings!

Having a long greeting before prompts begin will cause the caller to want to pull their hair out. That, or grab their blanket and curl up on a couch somewhere until the IVR is over. Get straight to the point, that’s more than likely the reason the caller is contacting you in the first place.

Tip #10: Office is Closed

Not having an “after hours” variation of your prompts is a no-no. When your office is closed, you should have a prompt that lets people know, otherwise it looks like you’re ignoring your customer; they won’t feel valued. Encourage your customers to leave a message or call back during normal business hours (give hours). You could even guide them to your FAQ’s or contact page on your website.