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Advanced communications from the source. | SignalWire

How to build an IVR that doesn’t suck

By Abbi Minessale

We’ve all been there before. We have all experienced the horrors of a bad Interactive Voice Response (IVR). You call the pharmacy with the intent of talking to a pharmacist. But to your absolute terror, you end up chatting with a robot. You called to ask a human person a question about your medication but the robot will not stop asking you for your prescription number.

“Representative!” You say, with hope.

“You want to refill a prescription?” The robot callously says to you,

“No! Let me talk to a real human!” You plead as the IVR gets confused and hangs up on you.

…You get the picture. Not only are bad IVRs annoying, they can also cost you customers. So how do you build an IVR that won’t drive your customers nuts? Focus on efficiency. While a bad IVR can drive people away, a good one can make it easier for your customers to talk to the right to department without your employees having to spend time manually answering every single phone call.

Keep the menu short

When customers call your company, there’s a reason. They’re not there to hang out and chat with a robot. Well…maybe they are, but there’s a different app for that. As fun as it is to be on the phone, your customer wants to get the information they need as soon as possible. Keep your phone menu clear and simple so it’s easy for your callers to get where they need to go.

Make it easy to talk to a live agent

Along the same vein, make sure your phone menu options lead to a real human person. Nobody wants to get stuck in a long phone tree, only to end up never getting their question answered. Technology is magical but an IVR is never going to be as efficient as an actual person. It should be used as a tool to send customers to the right department and collect data, not as a vehicle to avoid human contact.

Robot vs. human voice

When setting up your IVR, you have creative freedom to customize it to serve your customers best. This includes the option to use text to speech or playing pre-recorded messages. Everyone needs an IVR, not just tech people, so the style should reflect your business.

If your business hosts children’s birthday parties, you may want to have a pre-recording of a happy person introducing the phone menu to reflect your brand.

Our IVR at SignalWire uses text to speech because we prioritize helping our customers get the information they need as efficiently as possible.

If you want your customers to have a more natural interaction with your IVR, you might also consider a Conversational AI. You can accomplish this by using SignalWire’s DialogFlow integration…watch out for a demo on that soon.

Give users enough time to respond…

Nothing is more frustrating than when an IVR asks you a question and doesn’t give you enough time to answer. For example, if you need to ask your customer for their account number, give them a little extra time to look up the number (there’s a good chance the don’t have it memorized).

…and allow room for barge in

For some of us, this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve been stuck in a phone tree before and we want to get out. We know exactly who we’re trying to talk to and we want to get to them now. Make sure that your IVR lets people barge in. For maximum efficiency, try allowing barge in for certain strings and not others. You might not want any background noise interrupting the intro menu and confusing your IVR, but you can allow for barge in during secondary menus so that you don’t trap anyone on the phone.

Rephrase the prompt if there is an error

Sometimes things don’t work perfectly. Sometimes people mumble and the IVR can’t pick up what the caller said. No problem! Just make sure that when your IVR asks the prompt again, there’s a slight variant. Nobody wants to hear the same prompt over and over again, it’s confusing and annoying. Did they hear me the first time? Am I going to have to listen to this entire message again? All of that psychological torture can be avoided by simply rephrasing the prompt.

Different language options

VoIP helps connect people all over the world and you want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to communicate with your customers. Make sure that your IVR offers easy access to different language options.

Get creative!

Most importantly, your IVR might be the first contact your customers have with your company so make sure it reflects your brand! Make your IVR your own and don’t be afraid to pepper in a little humor or character. And don’t forget to pick really cool hold music. It’s 2020, we’re sick of the elevator music.