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Is your IVR menu giving your callers indigestion?

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Your IVR menu may make perfect sense to you - but is it confusing your callers? If so, it’s time to fix it.

Let’s face it: most people don’t like IVR very much.

The Discovery Channel told us as much in 2012, when its viewers voted IVR the “most annoying invention of all time”. And you don’t have to look very far on social media to find people with strong feelings about automated phone service.


There are lots of reasons why people hate bad IVR. Long wait times; a feeling that the company they’re calling doesn’t care about them; an apparent lack of respect for their time; being forced to repeat the same things over and over; the uncomfortable feeling of interacting with a robot that’s masquerading (usually quite badly) as a human being.

The list of frustrating things about bad IVR goes on and on, but in this post we’re just going to focus on one: poorly-designed menus.

This is not what I ordered

In theory, an IVR menu is meant to get callers the help they need, quickly and efficiently. But in practice, most do anything but. Instead, they offer confusing options, sometimes out of sequence, and often don’t seem to present any option that matches what the customer is calling about.


One reason for that is that lots of IVR menus are designed by internal stakeholders who give very little (if any) thought to the customer experience. Those menus tend to be driven by internal business objectives, like “We want to sell more stuff, so let’s put the ‘place an order’ option first” Or “We want to deflect more calls to low-cost channels, so let’s send the caller to the website for more information”.

But if customers are mostly phoning to report a fault, or get help with a complex problem that the website couldn’t solve, these things are just going to make them angry.


Another source of frustration is options that make sense if you work for the company, but mean nothing to callers. It’s not helpful to ask callers to “Press 2 for Accounts Receivable”, for example, when in their mind they want to “pay a bill”.


If callers can’t quickly hear an option that matches with what they’re calling about, it doesn’t take long for the red mist to descend. That usually results in them trying to find any way to get through to a human being, whether it’s the right person or not. That in turn leads to high internal transfer costs, wasted agent time, and a general (and often publicly expressed) feeling of ill-will towards the brand.


In short, poorly-designed IVR menus are a customer experience disaster area.

The good news is, they’re not hard to fix. In fact, updating your IVR’s high-level menu design is one of the seven “guerrilla fixes” for a better IVR customer experience outlined in our ebook, 7 Quick, Low-Cost Ways to Take Your IVR from Good to Great.

Here’s an excerpt from the relevant chapter:

Fix #4: Update Your IVR High-Level Design (HLD)

What problem does it fix?

To provide a great customer experience, your IVR should be designed in a way that’s useful and meaningful to your callers. You may want as many of them as possible to place an order, so it’s tempting to put “Press 1 for Sales” as the first option on the menu.


But if most of your callers actually want to report a problem with a delivery, or ask about returning an item, making them wait for the relevant option will only cause frustration and resentment. It’ll also cost you money, as callers end up holding for an agent when they could have found the answer via self-service, or choosing the wrong option and ending up with the wrong agent.


And if callers who do want to make a purchase think of that process as ‘buying’, or ‘placing an order’, asking them to “Press 1 for Sales” doesn’t align with the way they think about what they’re doing. And that makes them feel you haven’t really made an effort to understand them.


These are just simple examples of how IVR high-level design can get it wrong. When you have multiple business units all demanding IVR menu options that suit their own objectives, you end up with a frustrating, messy IVR that drives callers to Twitter and Facebook to let off steam.


“To provide a great experience, your IVR should be designed to be useful and meaningful to callers.”


What does it entail?

This exercise is a thorough review and redesign of the top-level menu options of your IVR. Key priorities will be to re-order the menu to align with the real reasons customers call the IVR (which can be gathered in project #1), and to re-write and re-record the prompts using language that aligns more closely with the way callers think about what they are doing.

The aim is to provide a more helpful experience for the caller, which will in turn get their call resolved as quickly as possible.


What will the impact be?

The impact of an HLD update can be enormous. At one VoxGen client, a major US insurer, call abandonments were reduced by 3% and the average time spent in the IVR decreased from 57 to 38 seconds. Overall, we’ve seen up to 25% increase in the number of callers getting to the right agent and/or completing their call within the IVR.


Get the complete guide to fixing your IVR, guerrilla-style

There are plenty of ways to tune up the customer experience of your IVR without having to invest in a major upgrade or new platform. For more “guerrilla fixes” like this one, get the full guide: 7 Quick, Low-Cost Ways to Take Your IVR from Good to Great.