10 Best Practices for Making the IVR a Desirable Destination

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Let's face it: Customers hate using interactive voice response (IVR) systems. They particularly dislike having to enter a seemingly endless series of prompts, wondering if they'll ever be able to have their issue resolved. It's hardly surprising that the majority of customers are dissatisfied with their IVR experiences.

According to a study by New York University, a whopping 83 percent of consumers believe IVRs either offer them no benefit at all or are only provided as a cost savings opportunity for the companies that deploy them.

Certainly a key component of customer dissatisfaction with IVRs is that people don't like to be forced to communicate with a machine. However, a customer-centric voice user interface (VUI) design can achieve or increase customer satisfaction by enabling users to navigate IVR options with ease and get their tasks resolved quickly and efficiently.

Here are 10 best practices VUI designers can implement to make the IVR a go-to destination for customers:

1. Always provide customers with a live agent option. Although an IVR menu should be designed so that it's easy for customers to navigate and locate answers to their questions, the first rule of the IVR is that customers must be provided with an option to reach a live agent. A well-designed IVR menu should continuously offer this option.

2. Make "call recording" announcements only on transfers. Customers understand that calls are often recorded for quality assurance purposes. But they don't need to hear constant reminders of this—nor do they want to. Make call recording announcements only when it's necessary to do so.

3. Offer a nonprimary language option at the end of the initial menu. Placing this option early in the IVR experience is helpful to customers and recognizes that callers may have different needs and preferences.

4. Keep main menu options to 30 seconds. Simplifying the main menu options improves the customer experience while making the IVR experience more efficient.

5. Make sure the IVR sounds like an agent. VUI designers can further humanize the IVR experience by entering voice responses that sound like those an agent would make. This includes using the right inflection and tone at the right moments (e.g., "You're calling about your balance, is that right?").

6. Use silence for turn-taking. Provide pauses to allow customers to enter information or speak just as they would in a conversation with an agent. Be sure to give them enough time to respond.

7. Allow barge-in for all prompts. However, if your IVR application doesn't allow callers to interrupt, make sure the prompts are worded so that callers know they shouldn't speak until the prompt is completed.

8. Make sure instructions are provided only when an error is made. IVR users can easily become testy. There's no need to further irritate them by issuing superfluous instructions.

9. Error correction should always use different words to reprompt the caller. One of the frustrations for IVR users is getting stuck on a prompt or a command. To prevent this from happening, rephrase the options available for callers if they make a mistake with a prompt.

10. Information provided by a customer to the IVR should be extended to an agent. One of the greatest frustrations for customers is having to repeat to an agent information they just entered into an IVR. Make it a seamless experience for callers.

The key to planning an IVR system is focusing on the customer. To achieve a high level of customer centricity, companies should strive to minimize the number of options available at every stage. If a customer is forced to listen to nine options before selecting the proper next stage, the call time will quickly become lengthened, to the point where the customer may even forget some of the choices. This can lead to misrouting and, ultimately, a frustrating customer experience. By keeping the customer's perspective in mind, a company can develop an IVR system that is intuitive, easy to use, and an asset to customer engagement.

Vicki Broman is the manager of the voice user interface design team at eLoyalty, the technology division of Teletech.

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