IVR Optimization Ultimate Guide

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To start this article, let’s say the thing that no one wants to recognize - clients loathe using the interactive voice response system. Unexpectedly? We keep repeating that IVR is one of the self-service best practices, IVR helps the contact center agent to reduce the number of unnecessary requests, and IVR is loved and adored all around the globe. But this is also the truth, as one statement doesn’t deny another. “Nonsense”, - that’s what you may say as an answer, but let’s look at the topic from another perspective. 

The cloud IVR still keeps its position as the most vital system for providing self-service tools and routing customers to relevant agents (in pair with the ACD). But as the research states, 61% of clients hate the interactive voice response system, and 51% hang up their calls and switch to another firm because of poor IVR configuration. Doesn't it look in great condition to be a useful tool, does it?

The main purpose of this situation is not the interactive voice response software's deficiency or its unnecessariness at all, but the wrong design and bad architecture of the menu. Every good technology can be harmed by improper use, and this system isn't an exclusion.

But is such a system hopeless or maybe people would like it if it is developed properly? In short, there still are more than 20% of people who like interactive voice response systems, even though it is often poor in their functionality and can't do anything to improve call center customer experience. So, in accordance with these IVR statistics, we can say that prospects aren't as bad as they seem to be. 

But how to improve the IVR system in a call center? What is the definition IVR? What are the main problems of this software? How to provide proper maintenance? How to measure and use metrics and cloud IVR analytics?

Let's try to deal with one old big problem and discover how to make the cloud IVR serve customers, not interfere with them.

What is an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system?

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is an interactive voice menu for self-service and welcoming incoming callers. It works based on two different technologies, dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) that links each button on your phone (0-9, #, *) to a specific menu section, so by pressing a button you open a linked menu section. Another technology is voice recognition system (a kind of Natural Language Processing (NLP)) that recognizes what callers say and routes callers to the most relevant agent or department. This software is also a great tool for call routing as it gathers data about customer requests and customers themselves, and it can manage call queues too by offering callback features or reminding customers about their position in the call queues. 

IVR optimization: let's find the root causes of all troubles

To begin the long tale about IVR menu optimization, we should start by stating one little thing: the system isn't bad, just most users operate it in a bad way.  Yes, not all people would like to talk to a machine, but keep in mind that more and more buyers look for self-service opportunities, and interactive voice response software is way more comfortable and functional than a knowledge base on your website or chatbot, and according to this statement it should be one of the most adored tools. But what is going wrong whenever some firm starts implementing such software, and it causes more harm than good?

What does IVR stand for?

So, what is an interactive voice response system ? It is an interactive voice menu for voice communication that can be used as a self-servicing tool and call routing system that welcomes and navigates inbound callers. This system can route calls, send automated calls as pre-recorded messages, answer customer queries, and complete simple tasks, such as payments, shipping info sharing, verify customer identities, and so on. It uses a TCP/IP network to work. It can also use integration with third-party software, such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management), Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI), ACD (Automatic Call Distribution), and other software applications. 


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How to set up the IVR?

To not beat around the bush, let's look at already mentioned researchers who have asked people what makes them hate the interactive voice response software. The answers may look obvious, but answer honestly - have many enterprises performed in the same way as it's described below?

“I'm compelled to attend to unneeded sections”, “There is no section related to the cause of my request”, “Messages are too lengthy”, “It just wastes my time”, and “It interferes with me getting to a live operator”. Think of a few interactive voice response systems  you have been interacting with. How many of them suit at least one of these characteristics? We can bet that almost all.

What do we get in summary? The tool that was created to offer more customer independence and comfort became an instrument of reducing costs with a strong negative effect on customer satisfaction and experience. But to determine the root causes of why people hate these systems , let's say two things: it is too long and time-consuming, and it has no alternative. To work as it ought to, such a system  should provide info as fast and precisely as possible, and no one has to be compelled to use it.

Benefits of IVR optimization

You have to focus on optimization not only to avoid hate from customers, but to get real benefits that will help you to earn much more than you could expect - better customer satisfaction, customer engagement, seamless integration with other call routing systems, and you can also easily win the competition among companies who ignore the importance of good design of Interactive Voice Response system. 

Why do companies use IVR?

Most firms use interactive voice response not only to navigate customers through the menu to provide self-service options but also to fill almost half of all customer interaction time with marketing messages, doubtfully useful information like working hours, website data (who would use it to go to the website?), and other recordings that are totally irrelevant to the customer. Here we get the first, but not the last trouble. Another factor for massive annoying is the inability to avoid it, as it is the only option to get to the client - and this journey sometimes looks like nine circles of hell, at least because the option to call a customer service representative isn't available in all menu sections, and such examples aren't that rear as you could guess.

1. Automatic filtering 

On the one hand, such interactive voice response systems have their goal to let clients resolve their minor issues or process the elementary customer requests on their own, with great time saving and via a comfortable interface. On the contrary, the reality is much more disappointing - as always. These interactive voice response systems have become a tool to help contact centers save some money on hiring fewer agents and preventing customers from having real conversations. As a consequence, due to poorly designed IVR menus, companies lose around 290 dollars per year on every potential client.  Anyhow, the IVR system is still a perfect tool to filter those customers who have elementary requests - if it is designed to provide fast response, it can easily answer queries like “What are your delivery options?” and “I want to change my subscription plan”.

2. Better customer satisfaction

IVR software influences customer satisfaction in a positive way as a call queue management system - it can eliminate abandoned calls because of its ability to offer callback options to those who are in a call queue. Also, it can remind customers of their queue positions and estimated waiting time. Moreover, such a software can also improve First Contact Resolution by providing relevant call routing - will the issue be resolved faster when delegated to the most experienced agent, won’t it? 

3. Lower call volumes

As we have already mentioned, such a software can also process inbound callers who are calling with elementary questions. If designed right, it is enjoyable to use without reaching to the agent, and when agents aren’t contacted with such common questions that don’t really need human intervention, they are more focused on truly complicated issues. This way such a system also increases agent satisfaction and agent engagement. 

How to perform advanced IVR optimization

The first thing to take into consideration is that such a system shouldn't serve only business goals, needs and requirements, but its main priority should be customer satisfaction and a positive experience. Before coming to designing the menu, make the audience research to discover what the interactive voice response menu should contain to meet customer expectations and solve their customer requests. Use a proactive approach to let the system recognize the potential nature of the customer's request before he starts to navigate through sections. Use caller digit recognition, such as ANI, to let the system get admission to the database. For instance, this may work in the following way: if the client has ordered shipping, and he places a call, the system may ask him: “Are you calling to get the shipping data (tracking, payment data, etc.)”, and ask similar questions for various cases. This option powerfully decreases the average time needed to spend to find the proper menu options. The more obvious function, but also a must-have one, is to give the agent full access to all data about the customer's interactions with the system, so when he links to a caller, he can process a request without any repeats or unneeded questions.

By the way, we have many more recommendations for developing an ideal system, and we are going to describe them in detail.

1. Make access to agents easier

This means you should never follow the rule “one pad for connecting an agent is enough”. This causes situations when callers have to spend minutes swapping between menu sections and looking for an agent linkage option. While this is happening, a client becomes more and more frustrated, and angry, and the chance to abandon the call increases with every additional second of useless navigation. Let the client link to the operator in every section, even at the beginning (after greeting). There are more than enough callers who don't want to use interactive voice response solutions at all, so let them get the service they want.

2. Decrease the number of recording reminders

People don't want to hear useless phrases that don't relate to their request, and what is more - they don't want to hear them multiple times. In the digital era, 9.9 of 10 people know that their call is recorded, so try to remind them of it only when needed - when the call is escalated, transferred, or during a greeting.

3. Offer language changing at the early beginning of a conversation

Let people choose the language at the start of their navigation, not when they have already entered a section. This may sound obvious, but it is crucial to make callers feel comfortable. The intelligent solutions can remember the caller's preferred language and play the menu in this language during the next call.

4. Provide advanced personalization

Use Caller ID to identify the name and type (VIP or not) of the customer and provide personalized greeting messages - a little option for a higher satisfaction level.

5. Say the queue number and potential wait time at the start

You can invest and invest in your IVR system improvement, but still, some customers will stay in a call queue. To reduce the harm to customer satisfaction, say the queue number at the beginning of waiting, so people will at least know how much time they must allocate to get assistance.

6. Offer a callback

A strong option that eliminates the risk that customers will become angry about waiting or surfing through irrelevant menu options, and abandon the call. Just one click - no problems. But make sure that the interactive voice response software callback function is easily available and isn't hidden somewhere where dozens of choices should be done to get.

7. Make an announcement about callers' service opportunities during non-business hours

This option should exist just because some people spend time getting to the agent without understanding that your call center isn't working all around the clock. Warn about non-business hours to avoid unnecessary customer frustration after clients comprehend that they put useless effort into getting service, and you haven't forewarned of it.

What's even better, the interactive voice response solution can route the call to an outsourced call center, or let the caller leave a voicemail.

8. Remind of queue updates (accurately)

Use this feature if customers have to wait for other clients to be assisted. Anyhow, if a client is 15 on the row, don't remind him every time when someone goes out of the queue - 14 reminders are too much.

9. Don't be too robotic

Look at the quality of the pre-recorded messages and ask yourself if they really sound like phrases of a live person - if not, record them again. Robotic voices are very annoying, so make sure that recordings sound well - many people will spend hours listening to them.

10. Use voice recognition tools

Let people describe their request or complaint as in a real conversation with the operator - so provide proper pauses and operate the voice recognition system

11. Decrease the number of long and unnecessary teachings

Callers can be already frustrated by wait times, queues, long navigation, and additional factors. Never annoy them with some unnecessary instructions, until you wouldn't be confident that the error really happened and some recommendations are needed.

12. Rephrase the repeating requests

If the customer failed and chose the wrong menu section, or can't find the expected one, use various phrases for similar options. People are very angry when they are stuck on the same stage, so don't add fuel to the fire.

13. Never use more than five menu sections

It may be four or six sections, but never more. People don't want to listen to options they don't need, and a menu that is overloaded with information can easily confuse and discourage callers.

14. Don't make massive changes to IVR architecture

Many clients use your system regularly, and they get some habits and remember the sections. Every business develops and adds or denies products and services, but you have to try to keep the architecture similar to what it has been before.

After each update, do a call by yourself to make sure that everything is fine and there will be no problem in finding the needed menu or getting needed service.

15. Use the right KPIs to evaluate IVR's performance

Focus on really vital KPIs and metrics that show how efficient and client-oriented your system  is. They include CX (customer experience), CSAT (customer satisfaction), NPS (net promoter score), and FCR (first call resolution) rates. Look for these metrics on the distance to find out what you can improve on your system.

The direct metric, as well as one of the most significant ones, is the IVR containment rate - the percentage of clients who have solved their issues, got answers, or needed data while using the system without linking to an agent. This rate determines the overall success of your system.

What benefit for customers can be offered by a well-developed IVR?

What is IVR optimization? It helps not only to avoid all popular IVR issues but also to achieve a powerful boost of customer satisfaction and experience, and reach the primary goal - more requests will be solved without calling agents. People will not only use an IVR consultant to process their requests, but they will also like to use it instead of live calls. Such a system can also help you to manage some business processes, such as improving customer service experience, implementing self-service customer service strategy, processing customer base with automated calls (as audio messages), reducing inbound call volume, answer simple requests, reduce the workload of human agents, provide better First Contact Resolution, offer callback options (including callback options for customers who are in the call queue while trying to reach your contact center), provide efficient call routing (routing calls to more relevant agents), reduce Average Handle Times, manage incoming calls, reduce operational costs, and offer wide range of options, like sophisticated voice recognition technology, menu items, and other tools for handling customer requests. 

By implementing the tips we have recommended above, you will have a strong supporter in managing call center activities - not a ballast that reduces customer satisfaction and exists only to be skipped with anger.

IVR optimization is even more vital if we take into consideration the fact that most companies don't do that, and as a consequence, you have a great chance to overplay competitors. By reaching out to a higher IVR containment rate, you will get a better image and provide a unique experience to customers, who are probably tired of wordy, poorly developed, and useless interactive voice response systems.

Three main IVR design problems

IVR containment rate strongly depends on three factors: overall time to pass through the menu, amount of unnecessary messages, and opportunities for speech recognition. As a result, we offer three basic rules to begin your IVR development strategy.

Firstly, never make the first menu section - from greeting to the last proposed section (agent linkage, etc.) - longer than 30 seconds. It is the time when the customer comes to the peak of his dissatisfaction and has no motivation to go further.

Secondly, avoid unnecessary marketing messages, and if you want to use them, use one, but not more. Such messages as “Thanks for contacting us! Visit our website to find more useful information” should be totally avoided.

Finally, improve the functionality of voice recognition to provide more adorable customer service and solve customer issues faster.

The main feature is to let people pass by the IVR

As the mentioned research states, more than half of all customers want to talk to real agents - and they are not interested in IVR. But instead of other self-servicing tools such as chatbots or FAQs, IVR is more likely to be called mandatory rather than optional. People decide to use a chatbot or not to use it, while IVR can't be avoided and plays the role of an obstacle on the way to the agent. How can we discuss its effectiveness for customers in such a disposition? That is the main goal of self-service - people want to choose it, not be forced to use it. Let clients decide if they want to use IVR or go directly to the call queue, and this is the best IVR optimization practice.

There are also some vital IVR optimization tips, such as the option to come back to the IVR from the queue, never reminding customers of IVR assistance when they have already ordered a live call, and never asking to confirm the call to the agent more than once.

In summary

IVR optimization is extremely important in today's conditions when the IVR system is no more a self-service tool, but a thing that annoys and frustrates people.  What is the IVR system? It isn't a bad tool, it is just often used in the wrong way.

There are many causes why IVR has become hated, but the root ones are its use to play too many marketing messages, poor design, inability to connect to an operator, and the final one - its focus on business cost savings, not on customer satisfaction. As a result, poor IVRs cause massive money and customer satisfaction losses.

IVR optimization includes numerous practices, but the most vital of them contains the ability to bypass the Interactive Voice Response system, shortened menu sections, voice recognition tools, ANI (Automated Number Identification), and the use of well-developed call center software

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