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IVR systems interactive voice response

IVR Solutions

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 System is just one of many DSC call center phone system features..

What is IVR Software?. An Interactive Voice Response (Interactive Voice Response (IVR)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.

Contact DSC today. to learn more about our IVR services and IVR application development software.

Building User-Friendly Voice Systems
Page 2

Author: Tim Noonan B.A.


A computer screen is two-dimensional. The user is able to look at any part of the information displayed on the screen at will. Highlighting, fonts and location convey structure and relative importance to different elements of material on the screen. In contrast, an auditory interface is serial, rather than two-dimensional. Only one word can be heard at a time, and the order in which material is delivered is therefore very significant.

The following guidelines illustrate some of these differences:

  • Always announce the function, and then the key required to activate it. This is almost universal in IVR systems and avoids confusion;
  • The most important or the most commonly selected items in a menu should be presented first in a list, so that the caller does not need to listen for too long, in order to find his/her desired choice;
  • Messages need to be kept short, and should include some prominent key words. (verbal emphasis of key words replaces highlighting on a computer screen);
  • Restrict the maximum number of specific items in a menu to between three and five wherever possible. (Since the caller cannot just glance back to review choices, this is all that can be held in the short-term memory of most callers);
  • Use silence to convey structure to your callers. Short pauses between menu items, slightly longer pauses between menus. Avoid long silences, as these convey no useful information to callers and can lead to user concern;
  • Use careful wording, tone of voice, audible tones and logical sequencing of information in order to convey context, errors, menu structure and the relative importance of presented information. Prompt for spoken input with a brief tone, use upward inflections for questions and the like. (In a screen-based application, layout, colour and highlighting serve this role);
  • Use terms and metaphors which relate to the telephone and spoken communications. (Remember that many IVR callers may not have ever used a computer, so you should not assume a knowledge of computing concepts and terms);
  • Confirm choices verbally so the person is confident about what is happening and where they are being taken in the application. (Unlike a computer application where status lines and layered windows remind the user of their location in the application, the IVR system needs to convey this information actively to a caller);
  • Avoid using two-dimensional data structures such as tables and two-dimensional cursor movement through information. That is, avoid the arrow-key metaphors. Instead, structure your information into items or records that can be heard one-at-a-time. Allow the caller to move back to the previous item, to hear the current item again, or skip to the next item in the list. You might provide a shortened version of the item, and nominate a key for further information on that item.
  • Your system should be self-documenting through well scripted prompts and on-line help. Callers might not have a manual with them for the system, or they may be doing something (such as driving) which means they cannot refer to printed documentation. Because preparing help material can be tedious, this also encourages designers to make the system more intuitive and less complex. By keeping to the guidelines just listed, - your help scripts will be more straight-forward.
Designing a system which is not reliant on printed information also means that your system is fully useable by people who are unable to read print including people who are blind, or those with other print disabilities. In addition, many people from a non English-speaking background may be able to speak and understand English, but may be unable to read English comfortably.


In the same way that a good public speaker finds out about her or his audience before making a presentation, a good IVR designer needs to know about her or his callers before designing an IVR system.

The user interface of your system needs to cater well for the majority of your callers while still being useable by all callers.

It is sometimes possible to develop a simple prototype system without all the functionality of the final product. You can then bring in some sample callers to give it a try.

If you have a large number of callers (many at different levels of ability) then having different prompting levels may also be desirable. Novices may not be offered all choices while advanced callers should be allowed to move about a relatively complex menu structure rapidly with very brief prompts. Always allow users to make selections without having to listen to all messages. This allows experienced users to move through the system quickly and saves you resources.

IVR systems usually need to be relatively simple in design if there are a large number of diverse callers. The best place to start when scoping the features and complexity of the IVR service is by identifying those information requests which are simple, but which take up a large percentage of your staff resources.

Quite complex systems can be developed if your caller group is clearly targeted and you can make assumptions about their abilities. Be careful here, though, as there may be pressure at a later date to make the system available to a wider range of callers.

One relatively complex system the author worked on was for the Land Titles Office (LTO). LTO wanted lawyers and paralegal staff to be able to conduct property searches via the phone and receive a fax of their search results. There are a variety of classes of plans that can be selected and some contain numbers only, others letters and numbers. Designing a system allowing efficient entry of all possible searches resulted in a relatively complex menu structure as well as the need for unambiguous entry of alpha-numeric input via the telephone keypad. This system would not be suitable for use by the general public; but it very adequately met the requirements of LTO for their experienced title-search customers.

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Tim Noonan (B.A.) +61 2 9687 1112, runs SoftSpeak Computer Services - specialising in Interactive Voice Response (Interactive Voice Response (IVR)IVR) and Disability Technology.

Contact DSC today. to learn more about our IVR services and IVR application development software.