Interactive voice response (IVR) is an effective way to maximize call center efficiency and improve customer satisfaction on many fronts. Allowing customers to interact with an automated answering system – whether through using the buttons on their phone or by speaking with conversational IVR – reduces call volume. This is especially true for spikes in call volume. At the same time, IVRs allow customers to solve their problem more quickly, which contributes toward everything from customer retention to boosting brand perception and ultimately revenue.

However, it can be difficult to build IVRs well and easy to design them poorly. Ineffective IVR may confuse or frustrate customers, many of whom simply press 0 to bypass the automation and speak with a live agent – a more costly asset for any company. Even worse than this increase in demand for support is the negative word of mouth resulting from such bad encounters, and the fact that most customers are willing to abandon companies after having poor customer service experience.

Common IVR Mistakes That Many Companies Make

Considering the call volume many companies deal with, call center software and automated answering systems are a necessity for helping to manage satisfaction rates and staffing needs. However, all automated answering systems are not created equal. Here are some things you should never do with an IVR along with some guidelines about configuring one that is effective:

1) Too many menu options

One of the core benefits of IVRs is that they allow customers to resolve their inquires quickly and efficiently. IVRs should be designed with this in mind and avoid giving callers too much information or taking too long to provide the necessary information. Care should also be taken when presenting promotional content. As a general rule, menu options should be limited to around five before breaking options off into sub-menus and each option should provide callers with quick responses containing only necessary information. Less is more and shorter menu messages will contribute toward case resolution times and other metrics.

2) Poorly organized information

Along with overloading people with menu options, it’s a common mistake for companies to not present options as efficiently as possible. Menus should be designed so the most frequently accessed information is available first and the least accessed information is available last. If half of your inbound calls go to sales and only 3% goes to accounting, sales should clearly be listed before accounting on your IVR.

3) Poor quality recordings

It can be tempting to record your IVR menu options in-house and in many cases that may be a good idea but don’t underestimate the prep or skill work that goes into professional voice recordings. Tips such as participating in something that puts you in a good mood before making the recording can go a long way toward improving quality – your emotion will carry over. If all else fails, consider hiring talent.

4) Repetitive hold message or music

What’s worse than being stuck on hold? Being stuck on hold while listening to the same promotional pitch or guitar riff for the dozenth time. Make sure your music doesn’t loop too frequently, that ads are kept to a minimum and that messages such as saying “your call is important to us” aren’t repeated too frequently. At the same time, you do want to reassure customers that their call is in queue.

5) Not having a call-back option

If your automated system isn’t able to solve a customer’s inquiry and they aren’t able to reach someone who can address the matter at that time, the system should provide a way for customers to schedule a call back from your company at a later point. Again, this has multiple benefits that may contribute toward results in sales and satisfaction rates.

6) Poorly incorporated promotions

It can be tempting to load promotional content at the front of your IVR so more people will hear it. This thought process is generally counter intuitive in the sense that you are more likely to annoy people than win them over. Again, this goes back to keeping things short and sweet. Advertisements aren’t likely to be relevant to most callers and only increase the amount of time they have to spend on the phone seeking a solution to their inquiry.

7) Lacking customer personalization

Your IVR gives every caller the same menus and messages without personalizing any options based on their history. Previous exchanges with customers can help you better serve them going forward, whether that’s with tailored menus, messages or better service such as an improvement in your IVR’s ability to route their call or preventing them from having to repeat the same information.

8) Not personalizing enough around your business

Maybe you opted for a voice actor who doesn’t fit the image of your business, or maybe your hold music is still set to the default option. While personalizing an IVR should be done with care so the tone and presentation matches your company. An IVR for a local fast food restaurant is likely to have a different vibe than one configured for a law firm. Your IVR experience should be consistent with the brand image customers have come to expect from your company, without being too formal or too informal.

9) Using different voices and volumes

In the interest of keeping your presentation clean and consistent, voice recordings should be done by the same person, ideally using the same or at least similar equipment for each recording. Hearing different voices as you navigate through an IVR is jarring enough, but having the volume or quality of the recording change as you go is just as bothersome.

10) Limited hours (not 24/7 service)

Your IVR is only configured to operate during business hours and doesn’t assist people to the same extent after hours. Self-serve options should be available 24/7. If certain options aren’t available after hours, make this known early on so customers don’t navigate the entire IVR only to learn that they’ll have to call back the next day.

11) You don’t follow through or get feedback

It has become a standard practice for companies to send followup emails or text messages to survey customers about their experience. Ensuring customers are satisfied is a top priority and the easiest way to find out how happy they are is to ask for their feedback during pivotal moments in your relationship, such as following an encounter with your customer support team or after a significant purchase.

12) Too much industry jargon

The language used in your menu is too centered on your specific industry and not clear for everyone who may be calling. For instance, if someone is calling to change their account information, they should be presented with an option that is in plain language instead of internal terminology such as being told to submit an “XY555” form for example.

13) Redirecting customers back to website

While there is something to be said for omni-channel engagement, if customers have chosen to reached out to your company through a phone call, asking them to visit your site for more information isn’t the best solution. They’re already seeking to solve the issue over the phone and you’ve boxed them into a medium that may not suit their needs or skills, while simultaneously demonstrating that you don’t care.

14) Customers aren’t informed about wait times

When you must place customers on hold or in a call queue, inform them about how long the wait is going to be so they can manage their time accordingly. If this is an ongoing message, again, be mindful to not make it too repetitive – reminding customers every 30 seconds that they’re going to be on hold for another 15 minutes isn’t wise either. Worse, however, is not knowing whether you can expect to wait 30 seconds or 30 minutes.

15) Hard to speak with a person

The best IVR is one that answers a caller’s inquiry quickly without involving a live agent. That said, there are inevitably instances when matters need to be escalated to representatives who can handle more complex calls than automated systems. In which case, an IVR’s second greatest purpose may be to connect callers with the right human as quickly as possible. It’s a mistake to make this more difficult than necessary. Customers will be left frustrated as they navigate your menus seeking assistance.

16) Not upgrading to conversational IVR when it’s time

The larger your organization is and the more calls you’re fielding on a daily basis, the greater benefit you’ll see from implementing conversational IVR. Whereas traditional IVR systems allow callers to use basic voice commands such as “yes” or “no,” conversational IVR allow people to communicate their inquiries in more complete phrases and plain language. Callers can describe questions or concerns in their own words and the flexibility of a conversational IVR can adapt to these circumstances and provide customers with a more human-like interaction. Personal assistants such as Siri have familiarized people with this type of technology.

17) Going fully automated

While relying on automation and self-service strategies to address customer questions and concerns, it can be a mistake to aim for entirely automating a call center for instance. Instead, it’s suggested that aiming for perhaps 80% automation and 20% live agent calls is a better balance, so the bulk of routine type calls are handled through IVR system(s) and a smaller number of specialized cases are handled by live representatives who are equipped to more challenging circumstances.

18) Thinking your IVR is complete

Did you just configure an IVR? It may feel complete but automated systems require ongoing maintenance to be their best. Information such as business hours, office locations, web addresses, promotions and seasonal messages must be regularly updated and there are countless ways that you can refine IVR to improve customer experiences.

The Bottom Line: Effective IVR Takes Planning

A small percentage of companies offer an IVR that is on par with the experience derived from speaking with a live agent, which is to say that there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to implementing IVRs, and that many mistakes are being made with current systems. IVRs should strive to answer calls as efficiently as possible without involving a human agent, or to involve them as quickly as possible when necessary.

Customers expectations are on the rise and many companies are reacting slowly when it comes to modernizing their IVR deployments. Improvements such as analyzing caller intent or sentiment along with other implementations of speech recognition and conversational capabilities are only just being adopted, while basic improvements to elements such as recording quality are still underway.

Along with decreasing the amount of time to serve each customer and serving more customers in less overall time, IVRs can handle calls more consistently than any human in terms of abiding by company policy or quoting figures accurately.

Doing IVR right can lead to improved customer satisfaction, reduced load on support agents and greater revenue, while doing IVR wrong may very well frustrate customers and lead to the opposite effect: increased churn, higher support volume, negative brand perception and less income.