The Evolving IVR

The Evolving IVR

Best practices for IVRs

“Hello, Maura. I matched your mobile number with your account. I see that you are flying from Dallas-Ft Worth to Boston today. Your flight is currently on-time, leaving at 9:30 am from terminal A, gate 21. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

Everything I need to know without having to do anything but select the airline phone number from my list of contacts - I love it! The airline’s IVR (Interactive Voice Response) knew who I was and anticipated why I was calling. No ‘For arrival information, press or say 1’, no ‘For departure information, press or say 2’, no ‘What is the departure city?’, ’Is this for today?’, or the always frustrating ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you, please repeat.’

This experience was in sharp contrast to another recent situation where I needed to check the status of an order I had placed with a merchant (let’s call it Merchant X). For a myriad of reasons, I was unable to get this information on their site. No problem, I had their number so gave them a quick call. Except it wasn’t quick.

The IVR didn’t recognize me based on my mobile number – even though I have an online account with them, and my cellphone number is part of my profile. So, because they didn’t recognize me, they were unable to anticipate why I might be calling. Because they couldn’t anticipate why I might be calling, they had no choice but to present me with a menu containing the full set of options. Well, they did have a choice but haven’t implemented natural language capabilities yet, relying instead on a directed dialog system.

This experience got me thinking about how some IVRs are evolving, how others aren’t. Merchant X’s IVR followed all the best practices of the not-so-distant past of how to implement an IVR:

  • Prompts and menu options were short, distinct, understandable, and pronounced
  • Essential options were listed first (at least what I think would be the most important or most requested options)
  • I was given the option to use the keypad or respond using voice
  • They offered both a call-back option and a quick way to bypass the automated system and talk to a customer service representative
  • There weren’t any promotional ads at the start

These guidelines are still valid. But for me, it wasn’t keeping up with what I have come to expect. And in the age of Siri and Alexa, I doubt I am alone.

Best practices for IVRs are continually evolving. Modern IVRs should strive to:

  • Take advantage of advances in voice recognition
    • Callers can speak naturally using their own words, much like they would if talking to a real person.
  • Allow callers to communicate in whichever manner works best for them
    • Rather than forcing callers through a static phone tree, give callers the flexibility to communicate in the channel they prefer. For many, this may be via voice; for others, it may be via keypad - after all, some may not feel comfortable saying their credit card number or phone number out loud when in public.
  • Facilitate switching channels
    • More and more people – and not just millennials - prefer to interact with businesses via text. Asking users on a mobile device if they want to continue the interaction via text is one way to increase customer satisfaction. This often leads to a more involved caller, not someone who is just pushing numbers on the phone.
  • Recognize customers and proactively anticipate why they might be calling
    • Using a mobile phone number, it may be possible to identify the caller and, based on existing information such as past transactions, anticipate why he might be calling and provide information and options that apply to him.
  • Make menu options more visible
    • Visual IVRs allow mobile callers to initiate an app-like experience without having to install an app. Callers can navigate quickly to find the needed information or, if necessary, be routed, along with their browsing history, to a customer service representative.
  • Allow callers to request a call-back
    • No more “Your call is important to us” or “All of our representatives are currently busy. Please stay on the line.” Yeah!

I don’t mind interacting with a business' IVR if it quickly helps me resolve my issue in the manner I prefer. What about you? What guidelines would make interacting with an IVR a good experience for you?


Resources: Design & Test IVRs

5 Ways Conversational IVR is helping businesses revolutionize customer service

Great IVR Characteristics

Moderated Remote Research

Usability Testing