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Tech Article - IVR systems interactive voice response

IVR Applications

This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to IVR Development and custom IVR software and products. Business phone systems and toll free answering systems (generally 800 numbers and their equivalent) are very popular for service and sales organizations, allowing customers and prospects to call your organization anywhere in the country. The PACER and Wizard IVR systems add another dimension to our call center phone systems and solutions.

What Is IVR?. An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) processes inbound phone calls, plays recorded messages including information extracted from databases and the internet, and potentially routes calls to either inhouse service agents or transfers the caller to an outside extension.

The following is an article relating to the IVR market including tips and best practices as well as product and answering service information.

Designing Better IVR Systems
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Building voice systems that don't alienate callers takes careful planning and management


You need to know who your callers are, what they want, what information they have in their hands already, and what vocabulary they will use.

It’s obvious that callers who are experienced computer techs will accept technical terms that would bewilder fi rst-time Windows users. But usually, the vocabulary lines aren’t as clear as that. Many businesses use terms that sound like plain English to insiders but can be bewildering to their customers.

In the early days of IVR, many newspapers implemented systems that allowed customers to stop home delivery for vacations. Typically, the system asked the caller to enter a “stop date,” a very common phrase in newspaper circulation offi ces. But most callers didn’t know if the stop date was the last delivery date, or the fi rst non-delivery date. Some guessed, others hit zero — and eventually the newspapers changed the wording to “Enter the last date on which you wish to receive the paper.”

Prompts should be brief, to the point … and in the customer’s language.

Focus, Focus

Once you’ve decided what you want your IVR to do, and what customers will get from it, you’ll inevitably face requests from others to “just add one menu item for our project.” Resist!

The worst IVRs are the ones that try to do too much — the best have narrowly focused objectives. A disjointed grab bag of applications can be worse than no IVR at all.

And despite the wishes and dreams of some marketing folks, it is rarely possible to build an effective “one number for everything” system, unless you plan to have most of the functions performed by live agents.

One warning sign of an IVR that is trying to do too much is a menu system with many levels and many choices at each level. Think about this: if your menu is four levels deep, and you have four choices at each level, you are offering 256 different possible outcomes for each call. If you have fi ve levels with fi ve choices each, the total jumps to 3,125.

Do you really have that many different tasks that customers should be performing through an automated system?

If you can’t simplify and consolidate menu choices and levels, then you are probably trying to do too much. Four by four, after an initial “English or French” prompt, is plenty for most applications.

Twelve Tips for Better Scripts

The following are scripting suggestions we've found useful, but bear in mind that menu design is an art, not a science, so there are exceptions to every rule.

  • 1. Place strict limits on the number of levels, and the number of choices at each level. In most cases, four levels with four choices each is an appropriate limit.
  • 2. At each level, tell callers how many choices they have, before telling them what the choices are. "You now have three choices. For sales, press " That encourages callers to listen to the entire menu before making a selection, and reduces misdirected calls.
  • 3. Place the most frequently selected choices at the beginning of each menu.
  • 4. Instead of "Press one for customer service", say "For customer service, press one." With the first version, some callers will press one before the sentence is completed.
  • 5. Please have your menus recorded professionally. Use one voice throughout the system, for all menus and announcements.
  • 6. Allow frequent callers to override menus and jump directly to their frequent choices.
  • 7. If the caller doesn't make a selection within a preset time (10 or 15 seconds, usually) repeat the choices.
  • 8. Provide an easy way to (a) reach a real person or (b) return to the main menu or (c) back up one level.
  • 9. Use consistent commands. If one prompt requires the caller to "press the pound key" after entering data, then every data entry prompt should do so. Similarly, always use the same keys for backing up or reaching a human.
  • 10. Use consistent vocabulary. Always describe similar actions and options using the same words and phrases.
  • 11. Keep promotional messages short, and don't inflict them on callers without warning. (It's one thing to hear an ad after you "press 1 for more information." It's quite another to hear one you didn't ask for and can't bypass.)
  • 12. If a caller makes an invalid entry, say so politely and repeat the choices. If the same invalid entry is repeated, provide additional information and guidance.

Integrate Your Systems

Never assume that customers want to deal with you in just one way. If I place an order through your website, I should be able to call your call centre to change the order. That seems obvious, but it seldom works. One large company we’re familiar with has assigned its Web-based customer service to one department and its call centre to another, and so far as we can tell they don’t share any information. Result — customer confusion and anger.

Even worse, however, is the situation in which information is lost during a single call. If your IVR asks for my account number, that information should be available to any agent I transfer to. Asking me again for information I’ve already provided is unacceptable.

(Believe it or not, there are companies that do this despite the fact that every caller is eventually transferred to a human after dealing with the IVR. Talk about a guaranteed turn-off !)

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