This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
When implemented well, an intuitive interactive voice response (IVR) self-service system improves key call metrics, such as the average speed to answer (ASA) and call abandonment rate, which increases your customer satisfaction score (CSAT). Below, we’ll go through IVR self-service best practices and how to optimize this feature of your business phone system.
1. Create a List of Common Contact Types
Understanding the customer journey is essential to building an effective self-service IVR system. Doing so identifies the root causes of contact and ways to improve customer satisfaction. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet listing the caller’s motivations, such as checking order status, and currently used methods like online tools and toll-free customer service lines.
You may also add details about customer demographics and the probability of first-contact resolution (FCR) using existing channels. For instance, if a significant number of people speak to a live agent to inquire about delivery status, add this option to your IVR menu. If you offer self-service for deliveries and still receive requests for operator assistance, break down the callers by location and demographics to see if your call flow is confusing to older adults or speakers of a non-primary language.
Use customer journey maps and call detail reports from your business phone system to determine caller locations, call types, and final call dispositions. Next, highlight contact types that are ideal for self-service. These are typically easy to answer using data from your business phone system, customer relationship management (CRM), or ecommerce software.
Pro tip: If you currently use an IVR application, calculate your self-service containment rate (percentage of calls handled by IVR without agent assistance divided by the total number of calls). This, combined with the volume of live agent handovers, gives you an idea of how effective your current system is.
2. Have a Defined Customer Self-service Strategy
A customer self-service strategy encompasses all interactions that don’t require human intervention. It keeps your support consistent across channels and improves accountability within your organization.
Once you’ve documented contact types and highlighted self-service options, it’s time to review your current approach and outline your new IVR solution. Look at the performance and purpose of your existing customer-centric tools. Do specific frequently asked questions (FAQs) on your website have more traffic than others? Has your customer care or sales teams mentioned increasing requests for a self-help feature?
Compare your results to your list of opportunities to incorporate a self-service menu option in your IVR system. What outcome do you want from implementing IVR technology? How does this connect to your overall company goals? For example, many businesses select objectives relating to customer satisfaction and cost savings, such as “increase CSAT by 2% and call containment rates by 2%.”
Outline your key performance indicators (KPIs) and reporting frequency for each support channel, including transfer and FCR rates. Write down what tools you’ll use for measurement and define what self-service success looks like to company leaders, agents, and customers.
3. Make Use of Best-fitting IVR Technology Capabilities
Technology plays a significant role in the success of your IVR system. It affects administrators, employees, and customers. A user-friendly but less advanced tool for small businesses can deliver better outcomes than one that requires a significant learning curve. Sure, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered applications with advanced analytic capabilities provide greater insights than basic automated services. But if it’s overkill for your needs, you may not see a quick return on investment (ROI).
A standard IVR service with a few menu options is suitable for basic transactions and small teams. However, some interactions can feel robotic and impersonal to customers, so it’s still necessary to analyze their effectiveness.
Tools with voice recognition and analytics answer complex queries by referencing a connected knowledge base. These tools often have sentiment detection, allowing the IVR to transfer callers to live agents if their tone appears frustrated or distraught.
Modern IVR systems go beyond basic menu capabilities by asking your callers questions based on customer relationship management (CRM) software-supplied data, geography, or the dialed phone number. It can automatically open a support ticket, and when combined with agent assist tools, your caller won’t have to repeat the same information to your agents multiple times. This can be critical to customer satisfaction, as Deloitte reports that 87% of customers find it frustrating to repeat themselves in multiple channels.
To find out the best options for implementing IVR self-service best practices in your company, take advantage of free trials and demonstrations offered by the best IVR systems. Compare the reporting tools and IVR components provided at various price points.
4. Engage Customers & Agents Early in the Process
Regardless of the size of your business, switching a process or adding new technology can upset your current customers and staff. It changes the way they’ve always done things, and a certain percentage of individuals will want the old method back. You can improve self-service IVR adoption rates by gaining buy-in from the people using the system.
Reach out to your customers to gauge their needs on social media channels using one or two poll questions or sending post-call surveys after conversations. Ask callers to rate their satisfaction with a recent interaction or which task they complete the most, like checking account balances or hearing the latest promotion.
Likewise, team leaders can use surveys to assess potential skill gaps and the benefits of an IVR solution. Ask them about their current challenges, such as not having incoming caller data on their screen. Also, provide a list of helpful IVR and phone system features and use cases for each. Does your team prefer certain functionality over others?
Continue to request feedback as you move through the decision-making and implementation process. Doing so allows you to tweak things as you go and keep engagement levels high as your process transforms.
5. Take Time to Plan Menus & Your IVR Design
Call flows can make customers happy or result in unpleasant interactions. Many voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phone systems provide a menu editor with drag-and-drop functionality to build your main menu and add multiple levels as needed. You can also check out our article on how to create a phone tree for help designing IVR menus that keep your end user in mind.
IVR self-service best practices for menu design include:
- Make it easy to reach a live agent by reminding the caller that they can “press 0”
- Keep your primary menu options succinct—ideally your callers will be able to get through the main menu in 30 seconds or less
- Review the amount of time your IVR software gives customers to respond to prompts
- Create submenus to keep your initial menu short
Pro tip: To improve the design of your IVR menu, ask your administrators to use the call flow editor tool and set up a mock IVR configuration. Don’t forget to take the caller journey by interacting with your auto-attendant menu and exploring user experience (UX) issues.
6. Keep Your IVR Database Up to Date
Interactive voice response tools link to a database, such as your customer relationship manager (CRM), to greet known contacts by name or allow users to retrieve account information. It may also connect to your online knowledge base. However, your customer needs and expectations constantly change, and your self-service IVR should keep up.
Use voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) software tools like those offered by Dialpad to discover commonly used keywords and phrases. In addition, your call recordings, transcripts, and post-call surveys can all help you identify areas for improvement.
7. Provide Callers With Information While They Wait
Self-help tools benefit your company and clients, and you should try to accommodate your customer preferences whenever possible. Plus, guiding people to the best method based on their problem and history can save them headaches and your company money.
According to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), “IVR-contained calls have no marginal cost” and other methods like “an email or web-submitted contact is about 81% of the cost of a voice contact.” The goal is to drive personalized, in-the-moment experiences. Achieve this using voice analytics, CRM integrations, and knowledge management tools.
For example, callers in a queue for your billing department may appreciate a reminder that they can access account tools online. AI-based services can send mobile users a text message to verify identity using their cell phone biometrics feature or ask them to respond with a keyword that triggers a help ticket. Offer callers in queues wait time estimates and provide alternative options, such as sharing a URL for your help ticket platform or scheduling a callback.
8. Integrate Your IVR Self-service Menu With Other Tech Tools
Some self-service options require your IVR to be connected to a database. Integrations expand the current functionality of your contact center software and let you personalize calls while collecting data about the customer or issue.
Here are the top integrations to facilitate IVR self-service best practices:
- CRM: Use CRM integrations to personalize caller experiences. It can match inbound calls to known contacts using a telephone or account number, allowing your IVR system to greet customers by name and prioritize them based on their customer status.
- Payment gateways: Integrations with payment gateways let callers make payments or purchase items through self-service and live agent interactions.
- Ecommerce systems: Provide access to order details or delivery updates by integrating your online purchasing software.
- Help desk software: Automatically generate a help ticket based on touch-tone or voice inputs by your caller. Customers can request a callback or report a problem without speaking to an agent.
9. Consistently Measure Your IVR Performance
Evaluate your customer support system frequently to ensure it’s meeting service quality standards and your KPIs. Standard reports and user feedback help supervisors identify trends and catch problems early, such as how many callers hang up after being prompted to enter their account number.
For example, you can review company performance reports to find the number of abandoned calls during an IVR prompt. RingCentral’s IVR/Answered report provides this data.
Advanced analytics, including speech recognition, provide additional details about agent performance and customer sentiment. AI-based tools offer more context, alerting you to pain points in the call flow process. McKinsey reports that “companies have already applied advanced analytics to reduce average handle time by up to 40% and increase self-service containment rates by 5% to 20%.”
What Is IVR Self-service?
An IVR system is an automated menu or directory that callers interact with via their phone’s keypad or voice commands, which the system can interpret using dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF). For example, a caller can either tap the number “5” on their dial pad or say “five.” It’s considered a self-service tool because consumers independently interact with the IVR technology without needing to speak with a live agent.
Self-service IVR refers to one or more menu options that connect callers with the support they need, whether through a live agent or self-service tool. Its purpose is to decrease call handle times, improve customer experiences, and reduce agent call volume.
IVR self-service technology helps callers with:
- Resetting a password
- Booking or canceling an appointment
- Hearing an account balance
- Looking up an extension for specific agents or departments
- Checking help ticket or order status
- Making a payment
- Setting up a reservation
- Initiating an order return
- Learning business hours
- Finding time-sensitive promotions
- Getting answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Opening a help desk ticket
- Scheduling a callback
Did you know? Robust IVR self-service systems now offer artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools, which analyze the caller’s responses to questions and route them to the most appropriate solution without forcing callers to listen to non-related menus. Modern tools also include automatic speech recognition that relies on natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities to identify keywords and interpret spoken words.
Advantages of Self-service IVR Systems
Not all self-service IVR systems are created equal, and initially, encouraging customers to interact with automated tools can be challenging. However, Gartner reports that service leaders believe “that as much as 40% of today’s live volume could be resolved in self-service channels.”
This shift could result in significant benefits for your company, and, when combined with effective IVR menu design, automated voice recognition technology also enhances the customer experience. Benefits to organizations include:
Live support is the most expensive call center channel. Gartner also says, “live interactions, even when only one step in the resolution journey, means that resolution will cost 80 to 100 times more than a fully self-service fix.”
Companies can route many calls to self-service IVR options while reducing the number of times a customer gets transferred. Sending callers to automated tools can minimize agent call volumes. In addition, intelligent routing can result in lower cost per call and offer additional savings from operational efficiency improvements.
Increase Agent Productivity & Satisfaction
An effective IVR routes callers to the most appropriate agent and provides customer details so that your employee feels equipped to handle the call. Automation features and integrations reduce after-call work (ACW), allowing your team to focus on meaningful work with fewer mundane tasks.
Also, intuitive call center software decreases the amount of training needed and has other features, like call monitoring and call whisper. These let you coach agents in real time. With workforce costs at a premium and employee churn high, improvements in these areas can provide multiple benefits, from cost savings to higher employee engagement levels.
Gain a Competitive Advantage
Zendesk’s 2020 report found that “over the past four years, self-service adoption grew by 103%.” However, “only a third of companies offer some form of self-service, whether through a help center, knowledge base or FAQ.” The data suggest that adding self-support options can make your business stand out from the competition.
Even if your team is small, a voice-driven IVR system can make your business appear larger. Your employees may have several duties, from answering billing questions to setting up appointments. Your IVR can show which department the caller requested, so your team is prepared with the right greeting.
Improve the Customer Experience
Resolving issues quicker and getting 24/7 support is important to consumers. Zendesk found that “69% of customers want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own,” and over 60% “say being able to resolve their issue quickly is the most important aspect of a good customer service experience.”
An IVR system with self-service tools can provide round-the-clock support, even if your employees are fast asleep. As a result, effective services increase your CSAT and net promoter score (NPS).
Drawbacks of IVR Technology
Implementing IVR isn’t without its risks. Much of the troubles stem from inadequate technology and poor design.
In an attempt to ensure the adoption of an IVR system, some companies make it hard to reach a live person. Yet, according to Zendesk, the most frustrating aspect of subpar customer service experiences, reported by more than 40% of consumers, is an “automated system that makes it hard to reach a human agent.”
Customers who are used to reaching a live person immediately upon calling your company may feel that your IVR is impersonal. Or, they might avoid interacting with it altogether when faced with an error.
The most important thing to remember is that simple is better in most cases. Start with the services offered by your current provider and keep an ongoing list of the things you love and hate about it. Your small business doesn’t have to jump from no IVR into one with hundreds of menus and submenus.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is an IVR tree?
An interactive voice response (IVR) tree outlines your menu options and designates an extension for employees and departments. You can use a template to draw your call flow manually or use tools provided by VoIP services to edit your menu.
How do you set up an IVR?
Most business phone systems supply a tool for setting up your IVR, such as a call flow or dial editor, that is typically located with other administrative features. Select the phone number for your IVR menu, choose menu options (like 1 for sales), and connect each menu item to an extension that rings the appropriate staff members. Learn more in our step-by-step guide to setting up an IVR system.
How do you make an IVR recording?
Record auto-attendant and voicemail greetings by creating a sound file on your computer or mobile device. Alternatively, some providers, like Nextiva, include free professional recordings with subscriptions. The files are uploaded to your business phone system and IVR software in both cases.
Encourage IVR self-service adoption by implementing best practices. Start with a user-friendly menu and human-like voice prompts. Then configure your call routing to ensure calls quickly get to the right agent if your caller abandons the IVR menu. Designing a practical service empowers clients to tackle easy problems independently while giving them access to live support.