Interactive Voice Response: IVR Systems by Design

There is a fine line in designing a system that uses voice response technology optimally, since automation is the basic tenet of IVRs. One of the basic goals of effective IVR systems is to help customers find answers to their questions and complete routine tasks on their own. When a customer “zeroes out” (i.e., dials “0” or speaks a response that takes them to a human agent), this purpose is defeated.

However, as important it is for call centers to keep track of how many callers are able to complete self-service (DIY) tasks without zeroing out, Nitzan Carmeli, an operations research fellow noted that “this metric has no value if you don’t consider the customers who abandon IVR systems (altogether) without getting any relevant service.”

To help businesses determine an approximation as to ‘when’ is the best time to zero out, the team at Software Advice repeatedly pressed zero on the dial pad IVRs or requested to speak to an agent when voice recognition was offered – until they actually reached a human being. 

As a result, 28 percent of companies averaged 2.94 menus before allowing the caller to speak to a live agent, whereas an additional 35 percent allowed callers the option on the 1st or 2nd menu. Pressuring callers to go to a fourth or further menu was used less an less by the companies surveyed.

Related: 5 Ways to Improve Your Customer Phone Support


Limiting Top Menu Options

There’s been an ongoing debate among specialists in IVR design that concerns both the number of options offered in the initial menu as well as the depth of the IVR’s menu structure (i.e., how many menus a caller navigates in order to complete a task).

The conventional wisdom regarding these options according to Bruce Belfiore, CEO and senior research executive at BenchmarkPortal (a leading firm in call center benchmarking) is that the branching tree structure of an IVR “should be no more than five [options] across [in the top menu] and three [submenus] deep. In other words, you give up to five options to callers, and when they push one of those, they can go down as many as three submenus.”

The report’s research however indicated that these options might be skewed dependent on a company’s business model and that most IVRs provided between two and five options in the top menu.

Length of Greetings

IVR systems almost universally include introductory messages identifying the company the caller is contacting. While such messages can be great opportunities for promoting your brand, they can also bore and frustrate callers — and possibly prompt them to hang up. This was backed up by this research study, as the vast majority of the Fortune 500 companies the SA group called kept their introductory messages under 7.9 seconds.

Dialpad Response

Though the term IVR includes the phrase “voice response,” the majority of IVR systems that the SA team called, in fact relied heavily on the dial pad as the sole input method.

Only 28 percent of the IVR systems they called offered voice response as the sole input method. In fact even the majority of IVR systems with speech recognition capability also allowed callers the option to switch to dial pad input.

It was also noted that speech recognition has historically been a bug-prone technology, and that if companies favored this option, they’ll need to look for a solution with advance speech recognition features.

Other Factors

Software Advice’s study also researched other factors important for IVR design inclusive of what submenus to include or exclude, the use or non-use of branding statements and the issue of hanging up on customers.

Important to note that all the best practices determined by Software Advice’s report can be accomplished with Telzio through our Call Flow Editor.

Using Telzio, there’s an endless number of ways companies can set up a call flow (the route of a caller when they dial in). Business owners can set up multiple IVR menus. And in so doing can transfer the caller to different actions like forwarding the call to multiple live agents simultaneously (first to pick up) or sequentially, forwarding the caller to another IVR menu, or forwarding the caller to an extensions directory.

Related: How to Forward Calls to Multiple Phones

Ron is part of the marketing team at Telzio, covering everything from tips and tech for growing businesses to customer success stories for the Telzio blog.