This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
A solid IVR system eliminates the need for a live agent by accepting voice commands to help route customer calls. Great IVRs will also incorporate features like CRM integration and will also be available at the base plan of their business phone systems. We’ve identified the six best IVR systems to help you free up your agents for tasks that can’t be helped by an automated system.
Based on our evaluation, these are the best IVR systems suitable for small businesses:
- CloudTalk: Best overall IVR system for standard features, including self-service and more specialized features like a call flow designer
- Nectar Desk: A good choice for businesses needing call center as a service (CCaaS) features
- Genesys Cloud: A good fit for businesses looking for stronger voice recognition
- Plum Voice: Better for companies with limited agents; the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistants provide customers with personalized experience akin to speaking with a human rep
- Twilio Flex: Best for businesses with dedicated programmers since Twilio lets you fully configure your IVR application via APIs
- RingCentral: The best option for businesses with the need to potentially set up hundreds of IVR menus
Best IVR Systems at a Glance
IVR Available at base?
$20 per user, per month
4.54 out of 5
$29 per user, per month
4.31 out of 5
$75 per user, per month
4.07 out of 5
3.76 out of 5
$1 per active user, per hour
3.73 out of 5
$19.99 per user, per month
3.71 out of 5
CloudTalk: Best Overall IVR System for Small Businesses
*Pricing above is billed annually. You may also choose a monthly billing option.
CloudTalk offers a robust IVR system that would fit the needs of most organizations. This is because of a strong set of general features, such as speech recognition and customer relationship management (CRM) integration, as well as a robust set of niche features, like outbound IVR and an intuitive call flow designer.
The call flow designer lets you completely customize the customer contact experience so that it’s streamlined. You use it to create various branches in your IVR menus that directly address customer needs. While CloudTalk lacks the text-to-speech that RingCentral offers, creating pre-recorded messaging is very easy, and you also set failover destinations for those customers who are misrouted.
- Forward-to-phone (from IVR): It sends calls directly to a rep’s phone from the IVR, which is particularly useful for businesses with mobile agents. With many businesses embracing work from home, this helps customers get routed to the right person despite the changing face of business.
- IVR surveys for customers: It helps you identify pain points in your menu setup. You’ll receive email reports that will display survey results in an Excel document either daily, weekly, or monthly.
Nectar Desk: Best for Call Centers
Like CloudTalk, Nectar Desk is very contact center-friendly with features like call monitoring, call whisper, and call barge. These are critical for both agent training and customer satisfaction. A feature like call barge is also fairly rare for a provider—it allows you to literally take over an agent’s call to ensure the customer is receiving top-tier service.
Call centers also tend to have their own contracted carriers for phone service, and Nectar Desk understands this by incorporating a Bring Your Own Carrier (BYOC) feature that allows you to use their IVR service with any provider.
Nectar Desk also includes speech recognition features at every tier, and pricing is very reasonable. For only $29 per user, per month, you get a very competitive provider with strong integrations with solutions like Pipedrive, Salesforce, Zoho, and Zendesk. You also get strong call center features.
- Speech and dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signaling input: Your customers can both dial in via menu choices using their touch-tone keypad or speak to the system to be routed.
- Call flow designer: You use this functionality to set up your menu system. You are also able to configure custom business hours for your contact center as well as set where and how calls are received.
Genesys Cloud: Best for Voice Recognition
*Pricing is billed annually.
With Genesys Cloud, the focus is on customer relationships and contact center management. Some of its most noteworthy features include artificial intelligence (AI)-voicebots, chatbots, and speech-enabled IVR designed to personalize each customer interaction. With such a keen focus on AI, Genesys Cloud has some similarities to other IVR system providers like Plum Voice. Genesys is also one of the few providers that deliver platform APIs at the base level tier.
Genesys Cloud is one of the few IVR providers that provide both on-premise and cloud-based IVR configurations for their customers. Having on-premise IVR is useful for companies with IT staff and their own server setups.
One of the standout features of Genesys Cloud IVR is its utilization of both Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU). These both use AI to help the system better understand the customer as they navigate through menus, and the incorporation of both technologies ensures fewer misrouting opportunities. Compare this to a provider like RingCentral, which only incorporates ASR, and you see why Genesys comes out as a leader for voice recognition as an IVR system.
- Omnichannel routing: The system will allow your business to follow up with the customer in their proffered channels, such as via text or email. This establishes this provider as one of the few in this guide with outbound IVR, allowing your business to create proactive and personalized messaging for your customers.
- Workforce engagement: The platform offers tools to track, manage, and boost their employees’ performance, including learning modules and key performance indicator (KPI) gamification features.
Plum Voice: Best for AI Assistance
Plum Voice is another AI-powered IVR system that uses voicebots to better route your calls to the correct department. Like all answering systems, this platform is designed with self-service in mind, but the AI helps your customers receive expedited help for many issues. It also has text-to-speech, allowing you to craft IVR menus without the need to make a single recording.
- Plum Fuse (IVR builder): This is a drag-and-drop visual IVR solution that simplifies menu setup.
- Virtual voice agents: The conversational assistants guide your callers through the process. It also has analytics features that help you derive insights from their calls, allowing you to identify sticking points in your IVR call flow and optimize the experience to reduce customer call time.
- Inbound and outbound IVR: These capabilities allow you to proactively reach out to your customers and assist them with things like bill pay without involving an agent.
Twilio Flex: Best for Customization
While a few of the providers in this guide, like Genesys Cloud and Plum Voice, offer API adjustments for their IVR systems, Twilio Flex is built almost entirely using APIs. This means that Twilio Flex is extremely customizable if you have a dedicated development team in your IT organization. Your team crafts an IVR setup that incorporates all of the menus and self-service options that work best for your particular business.
Twilio is also a plan-less provider that has pay-as-you-go pricing that varies based on your needs. By default, you will have 5,000 free active user hours to add on to as you need when you upgrade your Flex project.
- Customizable user interface (UI): The developer built several APIs that you can add to extend your system’s functionality. Because of its inherent customizability, it is also one of the better providers on this list for scalability. As your IT team grows, there’s no limit to the functionality that you can add on.
- Intelligent routing: The platform offers AI chatbots and voicebots, enhancing the overall customer experience.
RingCentral MVP: Best for IVR Menu Options
*Pricing is based on two to 20 users with an annual billing option. You can also subscribe to its monthly plans.
As a unified communications provider, RingCentral MVP has a multitude of features that help a business communicate more efficiently. It also has a four-tiered plan structure that’s perfect for businesses looking to scale. Combine phone system features with inexpensive international calling and a strong app experience on softphones and smartphones, and you’ll see how this is a provider that most businesses will value.
With RingCentral, the editor allows you to craft up to 250 IVR and DTMF tone phone menus. This presents the opportunity to craft a truly multilevel experience for callers that provides options for a number of voice and numerical inputs. This includes both top-level menus and submenus, and crafting each is done using their Visual IVR editor.
- XML compatability: When you’re looking to change up any of the 250 potential IVR menus, XML documents are usable. This means that bulk changes are done quickly so that your IVR menus have very low downtime.
- Automated Speech Recognition (ASR): This allows customers to respond to IVR prompts by speaking.
- Direct inward dialing (DID): This enables users to add DID numbers to IVR menus so that customers can reach department IVRs directly through their numbers.
Defining an IVR System
An IVR system is a call management system that helps you connect callers to the appropriate department. These systems automatically play a prerecorded or AI-assisted message that allows the customer to navigate a series of menus. IVR is available in both inbound and outbound varieties, with outbound IVR systems proactively sending messages via text to your customers.
IVR systems also automate many processes. For example, robust systems allow callers to check account balances, pay bills, or schedule calls, without talking to an agent. In fact, it can use artificial intelligence in learning customers’ needs and send them where they need to be without navigating the menus. This provides more personalized engagement, which according to Forrester, creates more satisfied customers and decreases operating costs.
Benefits of an IVR System
Cutting out the human factor is one of the biggest draws of a good IVR system. All businesses have hours, so what happens when a customer from another territory needs help during off-hours? This is where an IVR system shines because it effectively makes a business 24/7, and when there are no receptionists available, it will send callers to an agent in their local time zone or a voicemail.
Added Customer Convenience
Additionally, IVRs are more convenient for the customer. Rather than having an agent or receptionist look into account data and history, an IVR can walk a customer through many processes in less time. For example, when paying bills, an IVR will only need a few identifying points of data before it can help with a transaction, and advanced IVR systems even bring up information about an account just based on a few data points.
Increased Operational Efficiency
Based on research done by West, an IVR makes business phone systems much more efficient. In fact, IVR call containment helps you manage more than 50% of calls so that your agents will be able to help customers who need it. This means that agents won’t be tied up in processes that will reduce efficiency, and greater efficiency translates to better overall savings for your company.
Boost Brand Image
IVR systems increase brand image. Based on a study by Aberdeen, 62% of best-in-class companies use IVR systems. Simply put, having an IVR system will make customers feel more confident in your brand—it’ll make your business seem more national and trustworthy.
Practices to Follow When Setting Up an IVR System
A proper IVR call flow is essential because too many menus can easily lead to customer fatigue. This is why it’s integral to create IVR menus with navigability in mind—getting customers to the department they need quickly. Menus need to be kept brief so that customers can quickly get to where they need to go.
Updating Menus Regularly
Additionally, menus that are out of date are also a major problem for businesses. When a customer calls in and finds that menus aren’t up-to-date, it makes the business look bad. For example, if you’re rebranding, having old information about your products and services will frustrate the customer looking into these products or services.
IVR Call Containment
IVR call containment is essential for making your call routing more efficient, but sometimes, an IVR system can’t manage every customer’s needs. In this situation, you need to make it easy for a caller to reach an agent. This is typically done by pressing “0” on the keypad. While a good system will actively help prevent inefficiencies, there are still few things worse than a customer stuck in an IVR system that’s unable to help.
Clear IVR Prompts
Prompts also need to be very clear in an IVR system. Remember, the primary reason to have one of these systems is to handle customer calls more efficiently, and having unclear prompts means that customers can easily be routed incorrectly. As a rule, each menu should have around three to five items that clearly lay out the departments for the customer.
How We Evaluated IVR Systems
In looking at interactive voice response (IVR) systems, we considered several important criteria that we felt would enhance the experience for a small business. Criteria like pricing is essential for something like this because IVR systems vary significantly. For example, one provider may have a subscription plan that includes other voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) business phone features, while another may have a pay-as-you-go structure that includes just the IVR functionality. We also looked at ease of use so that you find the IVR that fits your comfort level.
Out of the IVR systems that we reviewed, CloudTalk provided the most well-rounded experience. CloudTalk as a service is fairly standard for a VoIP solution geared toward contact centers. It comes with features like automatic call tracking and recording but also has a dedicated business phone system.
Click on the tabs below for a more in-depth look at how we evaluated these systems:
20% of Overall Score
As mentioned, pricing varies significantly from one provider to another. When we took a look at each, we found that some providers, like RingCentral, had IVR features locked behind higher tiers while others had it as a base feature. Additionally, some providers, like Twilio and Plum Voice, had a pay-as-you-go structure that might be more attractive to businesses with less consistent IVR requirements. In all situations, we prioritized affordability when determining how well each provider performed.
40% of Overall Score
Features like multilanguage support, CRM integration, speech recognition, and analytics are important for an IVR system. Thus, we checked if these were offered in each system to show you which providers have IVR systems at their base plans and which were only available when you go to higher tiers.
20% of Overall Score
Not every company needs direct inward dialing (DID) number support or artificial intelligence (AI) for their IVR system, but these features are very convenient for some companies. For this reason, we also took a look at some of the more niche features that some companies might require when shopping for an IVR provider. Some additional niche features we considered are text-to-speech during IVR setup, a call flow designer, and outbound IVR functionality that allows you to reach out to customers directly using text.
20% of Overall Score
With years of experience evaluating VoIP features and providers, we also evaluated each IVR system provider based on ease of use, value for the money, and the overall value of their features. In addition, we wanted to look at how real customers were responding to each provider to understand any professed pain points or strengths each provider had.
The right IVR system will allow your company to better manage incoming calls without having to engage your agents needlessly. These systems have become essential, but setting up your IVR to better manage customer needs is even more critical.
CloudTalk, as the best overall IVR system, and all of the providers we covered in this guide offer robust IVR features that you can use to keep your customers happy.