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Your IVR and user needs – are you getting the basics right?

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When callers interact with your IVR, they want to be greeted by a system that works effectively and efficiently. Some of the main pain-points callers tell us about that relate to bad IVR experiences are where the IVR doesn’t support the basics of good IVR design. The biggest frustrations come from poor navigation, options that aren’t relevant to their reason for call, long-winded menu structures and a feeling of going around in circles and being lost in a hopeless loop when all they want is to get their task completed or speak to someone. Designing great IVR experiences starts with first understanding the basic needs of users.

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The hierarchy of user needs

Probably the most famous Hierarchy of Needs comes from Maslow (Fig. 1) which shows our most basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid. Once those basic needs have been satisfied, we then progress to higher growth needs, eventually moving to the top of the pyramid.


Fig 1: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (

The same process is important when it comes to user needs and IVR design. There are fundamental needs that must be satisfied as a minimum. As those needs are met, we move up the hierarchy of IVR UX needs.

Steven Bradley translated Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs into The Design Hierarchy of Needs. In this needs model, Bradley suggests five layers of design needs:

bradly-struto_visible.pngFig 2: Design Hierarchy of Needs (

What does the Design Hierarchy of Needs mean for IVR design?

Taking the example of an automated payment service within an IVR, we can look at what impact the Design Hierarchy of Needs has on IVR interactions.

Functionality forms the most basic need. From an IVR perspective, callers need the IVR to work. So, if someone calls to make a payment, they need to be able to make a successful payment. The process may be functional and basic but callers are able to achieve their goal of making a payment.

Reliability means that the IVR design is functional yet stable. Callers are not only able to make a payment, but they do so using a design that is consistent and dependable. Where an IVR fails to be reliable, callers are left frustrated and often resulting in multiple attempts to make a payment and to get through the IVR. Issues like poor error recovery and misrecognition can lead to issues with perceived and actual reliability.

Usability is core to good design. An IVR system that is functional and reliable but has poor usability will lead to poor user experiences. A usable payment system allows callers to navigate through the payment journey easily. It’s not only functional and reliable allows callers to make their payment with ease. Callers start to see a benefit in using automation which also helps drive willingness to use.

Proficiency extends the user experience into one where callers start to see real benefit in interacting with the IVR. At this stage, the design moves beyond the need of usability. For example, offering more proactive, data driven experiences. A proficient IVR could also offer simple cross-channel experiences, such as offering callers a text message with a payment confirmation.

Creativity, at the top of the needs hierarchy, is where the IVR interaction provides more innovative interactions. This is where we start seeing smarter, more connected experiences, including integrating of the IVR with other channels. For example, web to IVR experiences. Take the example of someone trying to make a payment online. They have problems making the online payment and call the customer service line. The IVR recognises this context, and offers a proactive welcome e.g. ‘I see you were trying to make a payment through our website. Is that what you’re calling about?’.

Progressing through the needs hierarchy?

At VoxGen, we believe that a usable IVR is a solid foundation for progressing to more innovative IVR strategies. Callers not only need functional, reliable and usable IVR interactions but they expect them. Gone are the days where your customers are willing to put up with sub-optimal experiences. Getting the basics of good navigation, ease of use, low caller effort, consistent persona and supportive error recovery is your first step in optimising your IVR. And these things don’t happen by accident. It’s only through a thorough understanding of the needs of your customers, their tasks and goals that you can design your IVR effectively. This means having the processes and skills in place to support a user-centred design approach.

Want to find out more about designing great IVR experiences? Take a look at our Outrageously Great IVR Planning Guide where we take you through 9 ways to create an IVR experience that callers will love. Or check out our IVR Customer Experience Checklist to see how your current IVR stacks up.