7 Tips for a Human-Friendly IVR System

Daniel WeissLast updated on January 2, 2024
5 min

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The future of customer service is certain.

Brands will continue to shift away from labor-intensive measures and toward more self-help resources. But if the typical interactive voice response (IVR) system is any indicator, a full transition is still on a long way away.

According to one study, 90% of customers who call a company want to speak with a representative. Anyone who’s experienced a self-help menu knows: IVR ≠ Real Person.

Furthermore, companies use automation as a cost-saving measure, but when set up incorrectly, these processes can confuse customers. This means more effort for them, more touches for you, and more expensive all around.

IVR Routing

Visual representation of a confusing IVR system

The advice in this post comes directly from the customer success team at Aircall. They work with Aircall users (both new and old) to make sure they’re getting the most out of their phone systems.

But first…

A Real-Quick Background on IVR

Press one for billing inquiries, press two for shipping information, to speak with a representative, say “representative”…

Your IVR is an automated system that lets users interact with a call-routing system. Ideally, the IVR will help your customers find the desired information on their own, avoiding unnecessary touches and leading to fast resolutions.

A lot goes on behind the scenes (technically speaking), but today’s cloud-based phone systems make IVR routing easy. Support and sales administrators can dive in and set up their IVR in a matter of minutes.

Tip 1: Your main IVR menu is IHOP

That is to say, your main IVR menu should always be open for business. Do not limit its associated phone line to standard business hours.

Even if every employee has gone home for the day, an automated assistant still has value to offer. Simple inquiries with concrete answers — store hours, locations, account balances, and shipping information — can be resolved easily.

Even if a caller can’t find a resolution through the IVR, it can direct them to the correct department or individual’s voicemail. This will expedite replies and resolutions.

Tip 2: The “branches” of your IVR are not IHOP

As a matter of respect for your customers’ mental health, your IVR system must eventually come to an end.

If a customer is unable to satisfy their inquiry through the automated channels, they should be directed to a representative for an efficient resolution. However, since your main IVR menu should always be set to “open,” it’s easy to forget that subsequent branches are may require human-monitoring.

Creating personalized voicemail messages for after-hours and weekends will prevent the phones from ringing ad infinitum (a recipe for frustrated customers).

As an added bonus, you can also apply a callback feature at the end of your routes. This way, your customers can go about their days instead of waiting on hold.

Tip 3: Keep options to a minimum

If you give your callers too many prompts, they might fall victim to the paradox of choice. (When too many options are presented, no decisions will be made.)

Plus, we’re more distracted than ever. These days, the average human attention span may be shorter than that of a common goldfish.

This info is regrettable (touché, goldfish), but your company’s phone line isn’t here to challenge the status quo. Adding more options may seem like an efficient way to discover a caller’s specific intent, but in reality, around 75 percent of callers think IVRs force them to listen to irrelevant options.

Customer Support Survey

If anything, your initial selection-menus should be on the shorter side. Start by grouping callers into broad categories based on common inquiries. You can become more specific in later “branches.”

Tip 4: Fewer roads make a simpler map

As mentioned in the tip above, no single branch of your IVR “tree” should have too many selections. However, you also need to be careful not to route customers through too many subsequent steps.

IVR menus have a reputation for being confusing, but there are real-world consequences. For example, studies have shown the elderly are particularly vulnerable to confusion when navigating automated systems, especially when trying to recover from accidental selections and other mistakes.

For those keeping score — yes, tips three and four compete with one another in terms of priority. The key to keeping selections and branches to a minimum (but still informative) is having a realistic idea of who’s calling and the ability to predict what they’re calling about.

That having been said…

Tip 5: Find out why they’re calling

Aircall, and some other cloud-based phone systems, let users “tag” calls by subject. Once a call has been reviewed, agents can manually apply tags corresponding to each IVR selection. Over time, the distribution of tags will reveal patterns relating to call frequency and volume.

Once appropriately displayed for analysis, this information will help you staff accordingly and optimize IVR call routing.

(Side note: tags can also help your team solve customer issues before they arise. This article in the Harvard Business Review discusses how preventative support helped Bell Canada reduced its “calls per event” by 16% and its customer churn by 6%.)

Tip 6: Hide your robots!

In a few years, computer-generated voices will sound shockingly realistic. But until then, recording your own IVR greeting will ensure a unique, welcoming, and on-brand message.

Casual Doctor

For Aircall users, the process is simple. The main IVR menu (as well as subsequent branches) can be recorded and edited using free software, then uploaded as mp3 files. Brand voice — and other creative choices — should match any larger product or marketing schemes.

Note: take industry norms into consideration. For example, IVR greetings for medical industries shouldn’t adopt a completely casual tone.

Tip 7: (Actually) Listen to the customers

No brand can claim to provide a great customer support experience without actually listening to their customers. Your IVR may be set up to help customers find resolutions, but it can also collect user-feedback.

Including a brief survey at the end of the call can help your team optimize performance and improve the customer experience. If anything is confusing or unnecessary, your customers will let you know. The system is meant to help customers succeed, and making periodic adjustments based on reviews is essential to providing superior service and building your brand reputation.

Easy Solutions

If you’re tethered to a desk phone, setting up an IVR requires a lengthy inventory of components and technologies that only your backlogged IT department can understand.

The good news is, Aircall has circumvented this heavy lifting for you. All you need to do is log into your dashboard and customize your routes for success.

Published on April 27, 2018.

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