This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
For many businesses, one of the first points of customer contact is the phone system’s interactive voice response (IVR) menu. IVR systems offer a quick and easy resolution for self-service issues like bill pay and make it less likely for calls to be misrouted. However, overcomplicated or inefficient IVR menus detract from the customer experience. In this guide, we use IVR design best practices to show you how to design an IVR menu system that improves caller experiences and outcomes.
Why Your Caller’s IVR Menu Experience Is Important
IVR provides an interactive menu system for callers looking to navigate the functions of or be connected to someone in your company. It’s a feature included in most of the best business phone systems that can make or break a caller’s experience with your company.
If a caller can’t reach the department or individual they wanted, frustration, lost sales, and even negative reviews can be the result. On the other hand, when the caller can get to the information or individual they want quickly through voice or number press interaction with your IVR menu, it supports your sales efforts and provides callers with a seamless and positive cross-channel experience with your brand.
Most of us have used some type of interactive voice response system at one point or another. While it’s common for impatient people to type “0” or say “operator” to be connected to a live person, ideally, your IVR menu should be so well-designed that any caller can quickly find the department, extension, or service they need without speaking to a representative.
The underlying technology of modern IVR systems is the automatic call distributor (ACD), which gathers pertinent information and decides where to route the call next. When a customer calls, the IVR menu system allows callers to reach various departments or functions by attributing a touch-tone digit to each one. For example, the caller may hear something like, “Welcome to [business name]. To reach customer service, press ‘1,’ to pay your bill by phone, press ‘2,’ for sales, press ‘3,’” and so on.
IVR call routing systems are designed to connect the caller to the right department, extension, or even someone who speaks their language. Some can also facilitate caller self-service tasks without the need for an agent, like bill pay. Keep in mind, though, that advanced functionality may require a more advanced auto-attendant system with speech recognition functionality.
Best Practices for Efficient IVR Menu System Design
There’s no such thing as an all-around perfect IVR menu design because each will vary depending on the needs and offerings of the business using it. Still, there are best practices for IVR systems to make the process much more streamlined for both your customers and your employees.
Here are IVR design best practices that will make the experience much stronger:
1. Map Out the Experience Beforehand
Before you attempt to create an IVR call flow, think about your needs for the system itself. You can use graphic design software like Canva to map out a structure, but simply designing your IVR tree on paper is also perfectly fine. This exercise visualizes the structure of your IVR call routing plan, which will help you create an efficient call flow with minimal transfers or extended pauses for callers.
2. Keep Messages Short & Simple
K.I.S.S, or Keep It Short and Simple, is a concept that works well when designing IVR menus. Long, drawn-out menus test the caller’s patience since, in most cases, all they want is to quickly reach an agent who can help them with a particular need or problem. While a longer menu is fine for web browser interface-based visual IVR systems, standard IVR menus need to provide the caller with basic information quickly.
Consider limiting the number of menus overall, and adjust the brevity of each so that it only takes a few seconds to playback each selection. Unless there’s no other option, don’t create menus with more than five top level entries―you can always include additional options for other departments and self-service selections in submenus.
Brevity isn’t just the best practice for your IVR menus and submenus. Also keep your introductory message brief, preferably no more than eight seconds. Consider including a “barge-in” option, which enables returning customers to opt-out of the menu when they already know which extension or number to dial.
3. Place Menu Options Before the Action
Nothing is worse for the customer experience than listening to a menu multiple times, so organize it in a way that’s more memorable to your caller. While it may sound fine to say, “Press 1 for sales,” this is actually more forgettable than saying, “For sales, press 1.”
This is particularly true when you have multiple options sending customers to various departments. Presenting the option followed by the action the caller should take makes it easier for a caller to remember which number to press when the menu is complete.
4. Provide Both Spoken & Keypad Options for Customers
Many IVR menu systems allow customers to reply with a voice command, but some callers may have an accent or a dialect the system does not understand. Make sure that your IVR system also has the option for customers to press number commands on their phone’s keypad, or the option to switch to a number-press menu, to ensure that all callers can easily get to the right endpoint.
5. Give the Option to Speak to an Operator
You usually don’t want your IVR menu to provide the option to reach a live agent right away in order to give customers a chance to use self-service options. However, you do want to provide the option to reach a live agent or receptionist in case the IVR system design doesn’t include an option that fits their needs.
Plus, not all callers will be able to use the system effectively or fully understand which menu option to choose. Sometimes a customer may not feel comfortable or be able to relay their issue using an IVR system. In cases like these, talking directly to an agent (or a live receptionist who can route their call) gives them the ability to clarify what they need and resolve their issue more quickly.
6. Minimize Hold Times During the Caller Experience
Imagine waiting on hold for a long period of time to talk to a representative, and before connecting, there is a long silence. This silence is bound to frustrate callers who may believe they have been disconnected and need to start the entire process again.
To keep customers from getting frustrated and hanging up, implement on-hold music for the caller to listen to during any waits. You can also fill this space with informative messages that tell the customer the estimated remaining wait time, and which even promote sales by mentioning new products or special offers.
7. Use an IVR System That Smartly Records Caller Data & Inputs
When a customer calls a business, many IVR menu systems ask questions in order to send the call to the correct department or extension. For example, the system might ask the caller to input their account number or the phone number associated with their account, but then when the caller is transferred to a live agent, the agent asks for the same information again to access their account.
Customers who are already frustrated hate repeating themselves, so it’s important to have a menu that logs the information so that the agent already has it when they speak to the customer. This helps reduce the caller’s frustration and makes their experience better overall. Not only do they feel they were listened to, it also makes your company look more professional when they don’t have to repeat the same information several times and the agent is fully prepared to help them.
8. Include a Call-back Option
Everyone’s time is important, so make sure you show callers that you value their time by offering a call-back option. This means that when an agent is free to speak with them, they will receive a call. The customer can go about their day and still be in line to talk to a representative without waiting on hold. This is invaluable when your business handles a large number of calls, especially when the wait time is long.
Most customers don’t mind waiting for a short time, but longer wait times contribute to customer frustration. In fact, a RingCentral report notes that 57% of consumers say that long hold times cause frustration when they call a business. Long hold times lead directly to call abandonment, which are inherently poor experiences for your callers, and often result in lost sales.
9. Use Caller Surveys & Analytics
Surveys are a great way to find out what customers want when they call your business. A short survey at the end of a call will help you gauge the satisfaction of an individual caller. When you know this information, use the data you collect to improve the efficiency of your IVR menu design. Not only will improvements enhance the customer experience, requesting their feedback also lets your callers know that you truly value their input and experience with your business.
Review your system’s analytics on a frequent and regular basis to perfect your IVR system. If customers are routinely hanging up during the third level of options, tweak your menus and make them shorter so that fewer customers give up and hang up. Some systems even provide an analytics dashboard among other business phone features you can use to spot shortcomings and dive deeper into where customers seem to have issues with the IVR menu that you created.
Efficient IVR menu system design provides better customer experiences and workflows for your agents. It reduces caller frustration and makes it easy for your customers to access self-help options or reach the individual or department they need quickly. The best IVR systems also use new technologies, like conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and more robust analytics to further enhance the caller experience.