It needs to be said: too many IVR and call flow scripts are almost *designed* to frustrate.

It’s clear that the typical IVR is for the company’s benefit — not the caller’s.

And yet: why should it be that way?

Sure — the IVR assists companies in sorting the caller into various departments — to better match them up with agents who are best to assist them.

But that’s only useful to a point.

Whenever I encounter clients who want me to voice multi-tiered IVR’s — with several levels of sub-directories — I usually try to start a dialog about trimming it down, keeping it economical and succinct, and I can’t emphasize enough: If you can’t sort callers in one basic level — or two — tops — you’re making the caller work too hard.

So here are my Common-Sense Rules for IVR — designed to promote clarity and simplicity in IVR trees — and yet still allowing them to “route” callers.

You can’t expect callers to encounter a complicated phone tree and respect you afterwards. If callers get frustrated with your IVR while trying to work towards a solution, that sense of frustration will permeate the entire transaction. They will remember the company who made them feel powerless; conversely, they will remember that company whose IVR was fast, made sense, and didn’t gobble up their time.

Callers have figured out that they’re being “handled”. You think it hasn’t dawned on callers that a convoluted IVR — asking them to drill down into several sub-directories, demanding them to listen to all choices, and punishing them for pressing “0” by making them go through the whole process again — is merely a mechanism to keep them busy and occupied until a live agent frees up? They’re starting to figure it out. Make sure your system doesn’t do that.

Callers feel powerless — and it’s a real opportunity for you. The very act of devoting time to call a company usually means that a solution to their issue wasn’t attainable on your website — or they’re likely unhappy and need to talk to a live person to get them to a solution. With that assumption in mind, why not use your IVR to establish empathy, engage with the caller, empower them to assist in their solution, and encourage them, rather than send them through a maze of obstacles?

It seems like common sense. Respect their time. Don’t lead callers through unnecessary steps to “occupy” them until help comes. And that their time spent in the IVR could be maximized by making them an active participant in their care. But as the quote goes: “I wish common sense was more common.”


Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, heard on platforms for Cisco, Vonage, Bell Canada, Cincinnati Bell, Mitel, and of course: the Asterisk Open Source PBX. Web: Twitter: @voicegal