An interactive voice response system (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, call center IVRs allow customers to solve their problems more quickly, which contributes to 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 or a real person – 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 a poor customer service experience.


IVR systems from top providers



Here Are the Most Common IVR Mistakes:


Most Common IVR Mistakes 

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 guidelines about which IVR mistakes to avoid–and how to fix them:


1) Too Many Menu Options

One of the core benefits of IVRs is that they allow customers to resolve their inquiries 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. They should also be careful 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 improve case resolution times and other metrics.


2) Poorly Organized Information

It’s a common mistake for companies to present menu options in a disorganized or poorly worded fashion. 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 be listed before accounting on your IVR.

Here’s an example of a simple, organized IVR flow:

IVR Call Flow

3) Poor Quality Recordings

It can be tempting to record your IVR menu options in-house, and while this may be cost-effective in many cases, don’t underestimate the prep or skill 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, because your emotion will carry over. If all else fails, consider hiring third-party professional talent to do the recording for you.


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. Ensure your music doesn’t loop too frequently, that ads are kept to a minimum, and that you avoid overusing messages like “your call is important to us”. At the same time, you do want to reassure customers that their call is acknowledged and in queue.


5) No 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 an automatic callback from your company at a later point. Again, this has multiple benefits that may contribute to results in sales and satisfaction scores.


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) Lack of 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 improved IVR call routing–such as a skills-based routing engine.


8) Inconsistent Brand Image

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. Instead, personalize your IVR with care so the tone and presentation match your company. An IVR for a local fast food restaurant will probably have different voice prompts 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) 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, and having the volume or quality of the recording change as you go is even more bothersome.


10) Limited Service Hours (Not 24/7)

Your IVR is only configured to operate during business hours and doesn’t assist people to the same extent after hours. Self-service 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) No Follow-Through or Satisfaction Survey

It has become a standard practice for companies to send follow-up emails or text messages to survey customers about their user 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 may be too centered on your specific industry and not clear for all callers. 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 “XY-555” form.


13) Redirecting Customers Back to Website

While there is something to be said for omnichannel engagement, if customers have chosen to reach 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) No Wait Time Information

When you must place customers on hold or in a call queue, inform them about how long the wait time 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 the customer not knowing whether they can expect to wait 30 seconds, or 30 minutes.


15) Hard-to-Reach Live Agents

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 in real-time to representatives who can handle more complex customer calls than automated systems. In this 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. An intelligent call routing system, like one of those listed below, helps guarantee IVRs send customers to the right agent.

Call Routing


16) No Conversational IVR When Necessary

The larger your organization is, and the more calls you’re fielding daily, the greater the 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 allows 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 to provide customers with a more human-like interaction.

Conversational AI Components

17) Fully Automated Without Live Agents

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 contact center for instance. Instead, aim for roughly 80% automation and 20% live agent calls, so the bulk of routine calls are handled through IVR solutions and a smaller number of specialized cases are handled by live representatives that are better equipped for more challenging circumstances.


18) Lack of IVR Maintenance

While your IVR system may feel complete, automated systems require ongoing maintenance to function 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 your IVR to improve customer experiences–especially as providers add new capabilities.


IVR Should Enhance Live Agent Performance

Very few companies offer an IVR on par with the quality and experience of speaking with a live agent. This indicates that there is plenty of room for improvement when implementing IVRs, and that most companies make mistakes with their current systems. IVRs should strive to answer calls as efficiently as possible without involving a human agent, routing to agents as quickly when necessary.

IVR technologies such as analyzing caller intent or sentiment, call recording, speech recognition, and conversational capabilities are rapidly improving.

Along with decreasing average handle time and serving more customers faster, IVRs with voice recognition can handle calls more consistently than live agents–providing information like company policy, business hours, and user data.

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