Published in


Jack Barton

Sep 27, 2019

6 min read

Your IVR System Deserves Some Attention

I’ve said — many times — that a really great IVR system shouldn’t be a wall between callers and agents. It should be the reason your callers don’t need to talk to an agent.

Here’s the problem: at this point, callers aren’t giving IVR systems the time of day. They expect it to be bad.

But you can change that. Here’s how.

Your IVR System deserves some attention

Please press ‘0’ to beat the IVR system

Ask most customers what an IVR system is actually for, and they’ll say ‘to stop me from speaking to anyone’.

And you know what? They’re sort of right. Call Centers use IVR because it costs a lot less than employing extra people.

But in the UK, ‘10% of calls are ‘zeroed out’ — meaning the caller does something to make sure they reach a human agent. It’s even higher in the US. Even though most customers will get faster service from the IVR, a lot of them won’t even try it.

So how will you make IVR appealing?

How to make an IVR system sound like a good idea

Your problem — callers won’t use your IVR

Their reason — they assume it’s unwieldy and frustrating

Our solution — tell them it’s not

Yes, it seems like a very simple solution. But personally, I’m surprised that more inbound call centers don’t explain, in plain language, exactly why callers should try the IVR first.

In particular

First, give customers a choice between IVR and a human agent. Yes, that sounds counter-intuitive. It is important though, because the negative perception we’re trying to tackle is IVR as a barrier, rather than one of two (or more) equally good options.

When you get a call, start with a message like: ‘Hello, thanks for calling <business name>. I can help you reach a human advisor as soon as someone is available. But it could be much quicker if I help you myself. Is that ok?’

This does a few simple things:

  • It turns a negative (a long wait) into a positive (fast IVR service).
  • It starts a dialogue with the question ‘is that ok?’. Whether they respond with natural language or dtmf doesn’t matter. Dialogue is how you steer customers wherever you need them to go. You already know this if you’re a salesperson. If you’re not, find a salesperson and ask them about the power of dialogue.

In 2018, two-thirds of customers gave up on their call because they couldn’t reach an agent. The crazy thing is that a lot of those call centers will look at that result (through some very broken metrics) and see success.

Bonus wisdom #1

Should you really play a recorded message inviting customers to visit your website first? It’s not usually the call center’s job to maintain online FAQs. So are you sending customers to a resource that you don’t control (or really understand?)

And anyway — over half of your callers already tried the website and didn’t find their answer. So that advice isn’t going to help them.

On the other hand, it’s useful to offer a well-designed transfer to a website or app, using SMS or other messaging from IVR. Find out how customers really use this, and you’ll find out a great deal about which self-service options actually help them.

73% of customers want the ability to solve their own product and service issues


Create an IVR that’s genuinely helpful

You don’t want a marketing solution to a product problem.

When it works well, IVR should basically be like another agent. The most important element of that is integration and making sure it can access the same systems as an agent.

Traditionally, this has been a challenge. Integration across systems is actually the single biggest obstacle stopping call centers benefiting from their investments.

So do some research on the best integration strategy for your business, perhaps using APIs to share data easily. Because what else can you do? Continue with bad IVR?

Bonus wisdom #2

Call centers can’t decide whether IVR is part of self-service. But that’s exactly what it should be, and that’s how you should pitch it.

Wherever you advertise your contact options, include IVR as telephone self-service. Around 75% of millennials — the largest demographic — select self-service first.

66% of call centers have the options to transfer from self service to a live agent

*Who* is your IVR System?

What does your IVR do in its personal time? Does it prefer cooking shows or sports? Does your IVR have any pets?

Are these questions a bit kooky?

Let me explain. Way back in the early millennium there was a fashion for IVRs with names and personal histories. Bell Canada had ‘Emily’. Sprint had ‘Claire’. Yahoo had ‘Jennie McDermott’.

Besides names, each of these had a complete backstory. Jenni even had a surname, a boyfriend and a dog. Her dog had a name! (Brindle). Unfortunately, none of them are around these days to tell their story.

So… nobody should name their IVR system?

By all means, name your IVR if you want to. There is actually a school of thought that recommends coming up with both a name, and everything else that goes into creating an ‘IVR persona’.

The IVR sets a tone for the company, just like a website or advertising. The voice portal, Web and advertising personae have to come back to the tone of the company and how it wants to project itself. A persona is not a name but an overall tone.’

Marie Jackson, SpeechTechMag

It’s a pretty simple theory. After all, your IVR system is a representative for your brand, like an agent. Except, this agent will probably interact with every single one of your callers. So maybe you should have a good understanding of, well, what they’re like.

Bell, Sprint, Yahoo and others made a mistake, but it wasn’t that their personas had names; it was that they made the personas superficial. IVR design isn’t a marketing gimmick, it’s a CX tool that you can use to guide design decisions.

What matters is the tone you’re setting.

One call to a live agent costs more than seven IVR calls


Bonus wisdom #3

Once again, let’s remember not to trap our customers in the services we want them to use.

Two-thirds of call centers don’t provide an option for customers to move from self-service to a live agent. There might be a short-term saving in that but it’s made at a long-term cost. You may see that cost in reduced customer loyalty, rock-bottom CSat or just miserable customers.

Assess the other channel options you have, and whether switching between them is straightforward. If the paths between IVR, web self-service, SMS and other messaging are clear, customers will use them.

Fix what’s broken

Are these two facts connected?

Never. Not once. That’s… pretty bad guys. Surely every call center knows of a few ways their processes or communication solutions could work better? So why not make them better?

I’m sure I don’t need to stress the point. Because even if your IVR processes were perfect when installed (unlikely) there’s no way they’re still perfect.

It makes sense to study and improve each aspect of the customer experience you offer as regularly as possible. That’s especially true of IVR, which is why your best bet is using No-Code tools to make changes as and when you need to — without giant software projects.

Too few contact centers take their IVR seriously. You can coach agents all day long and you can invest heavily in fancy new hardware. But IVR is where you make your first impressions — so make them count!

You can read more about automating SMS and IVR in our free eBook, available now.