Many clients ask me to proof their IVR/Call Flow scripts before I voice them. I’ve identified ten common areas where people needlessly complicate their IVRs, and end up producing systems which all sound the same.

You Try to Make Your Company Sound Bigger

I have voiced intro messages which sometimes exceed 15-20 options — and most of them just re-route back to a single point of contact. You press accounts receivable, payable, tech support — it all ends up at the same friendly CEO/accountant/chief bottle washer. I’m a small company, too — so I understand the necessity in wearing numerous hats. Just be aware that too many options or sub-directories point to an obvious attempt to sound bigger.

Your Most Important Options are Lost in the Menu

I once voiced an IVR system for a heart clinic in Florida with — see above — 12 different options to choose from (too many), and the very last option said: “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up, and dial 911.”  Let’s say you were having crushing chest pains and happened to dial your cardiologist’s office instead of 911; wouldn’t you want to be set straight — sooner than later? That goes for customers who are having technical support issues with the internet service you provide/support — let’s give those people with an emergent need a gateway to get to a person — fast. Identify the top five reasons for callers to call, and front-stack them according to urgency/popularity.

You Give Lengthy Driving Directions to the Office/Facility

If you must provide an option with driving directions — and I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a good or necessary thing anymore, especially with the prevalence of GPS systems onboard most vehicles and on everyone’s phones — keep them as short, succinct, and as pertinent as possible. A better option? “We’re located in the Fisher Medical Park, off Deerfoot Trail Southeast.” GPS can take it from there.

You Overestimate the Caller’s Patience and Attention Span

They’re  both shorter than you think. All previous points I’ve made so far point towards this basic fact: keep it short. Front-load it with the most crucial info at the top;announcers and voice-over professionals have known for years that secret to a good demo is to put your best stuff at the beginning. And don’t inundate people with more information than they need — especially at the all-important point of entry. We are limited as to what we remember; when faced with a long string of options/instructions, we are likely to choose the last thing we hear.

You Want Me to Read It Slowly

I suppose this is open to interpretation, and can be more of a judgement call than anything else. If I’m voicing a pharmaceutical information line geared at seniors, I’ll be been asked to take a more meticulous, exacting pace — taking into consideration hearing issues and reaction time. Fair enough. For practically any other industry — particularly those dealing with high-tech, industry-forward aspects — and especially if there’s a high chance of repeat callers — let’s fly through your phone options at a fairly energetic pace. People’s time is valuable; and their frustration levels can be exacerbated by a plodding, overly leisurely pace.

You Haven’t Told Me How to Pronounce Your Staff Member’s Names

I’m pretty good at pronouncing place names (even those unfamiliar to me), and I’m pretty intuitive and a great guesser, but nowhere is there a greater chance of mis-pronouncing than with proper names — and it’s surprising how little direction I get with that. If you’re having someone voice a phone tree with *any* names where you think there might be multiple pronunciations or there’s a name that is often botched, please provide a pronunciation guide.

You Go Overboard With Niceties

There isn’t a person who has been on hold in the last twenty years who hasn’t been thanked profusely for their patience, told that their business is appreciated, or that their time is valuable. We hear it so often, if fact, that it frequently comes across as disingenuous. I try my hardest to sound as sincere and earnest as possible when voicing such platitudes; I implore the writers of IVR and on-hold systems to re-think the over-peppering of scripts with too many niceties. People get it. They know you’re busy giving someone else the same legendary service that you look forward to giving them — just keep the glad-handling to a minimum.

Your Company Name is Impossible to Pronounce

I ran into an interesting dilemma after I chose the name for my company — The when looking at the web address or e-mail address: , for example, scores of people have said: “Oh! It’s…..THEIR” Umm, not exactly. It really has to be carefully dissected if you hope to have someone type it in correctly — and people need to understand the acronym IVR — for it to make sense. That’s visual. I encounter *many* firms who have an unusual company name, which I have frequently gotten wrong until I was educated about the correct way to pronounce it. If I — a professional voice — gets it wrong, how often does the general public mis-pronounce it? Think very carefully when naming your company about how the name *sounds* — and what the margin of error would be for either mis-pronouncing it or mis-typing it into a browser.

You Give Too Much Detail in Your Opening Greeting

Save all but a brief company description for your on-hold component — in your opening message, saying the briefest of blurbs about what the company does is sufficient. I voiced an opening message that talked about the company’s history, how long they’ve been in business, the products they offer, and why they’re better than their competitors. All that would be great to play while someone’s on hold — not before any department options have been given.

You Haven’t Read Your Copy Out Loud

Many glitches in awkward wording don’t make themselves evident when you’re simply scanning them visually — it’s really important to read your IVR script out loud to catch any odd phrasing and redundancies. Find an empty board room, stairwell, even your car – and read your copy out loud. You’ll be amazed at the awkwardness in phrasing which comes out auditorily that wasn’t noticeable scanning it with your eyes.

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, heard on systems for ShoreTel, Mitel, Asterisk, Cisco, and countless others.,, @voicegal