Top 10 Ways to Optimize Your IVR Experience

9 min to read · By Tony Iero

In business, just as in life, first impressions matter. Your Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) is often the first point of contact between your business and your customer base. As such, it’s a critical building block for providing a great customer experience. As such, your IVR must welcome customers in a way that enhances your overall brand and customer service strategy.

But to do that, you need to bring your IVR out of the Dark Ages. Long recorded messages, complicated menu options, jumps between systems, dead ends—a faulty IVR system can tank your customer lifetime value, even before they finally connect with a representative or specialist.

Optimized and modern IVR software lets you:

  • Effectively route customers to the right department and call center agents.
  • Deflect customers to more efficient channels, like SMS text.
  • Showcase a customer’s transactional history so you can provide a hyper-personalized customer experience.
  • Reduce customer hang ups and frustrations.

IVR platforms can wow your customers and improve customer calls—if you know how to use them. Here are 10 ways to achieve maximum efficiency from your IVR.

1. Start with a tried-and-true IVR sequence.

No one enjoys having to click through or listen to a million menu options before finally getting what they want. Your IVR menu should be built around your customer. Analyze call data to establish the most frequently requested queries and design your IVR accordingly. Option one should, ideally, be the area that generates the most traffic. Doing this will reduce customer effort and shorten time spent within the IVR.

Menu option numbers should be mentioned after the department. Customers’ ears are tuned to listen for the department they want to reach. By doing this, customers will have time to process what they hear and be routed more effectively. For example, format your phrasing as, “For billing, press one,” as opposed to “Press one for billing.” Putting the path up front will trigger the brain to listen to what comes after.

We’ve listened to—and even created—a myriad of IVR menus in support of our clients. Having worked with the best brands for over 25 years, we’ve been able to nail down precise recipes to create an effective sequence.

So, before you dig into optimizing your IVR experience, make sure it’s set up right. Here’s a template we provide for our clients.

IVR flow template

Follow this IVR flow to create an efficient menu:

  1. Segment the call.
  2. Authenticate the call (if necessary).
  3. Understand the intent of the call.
  4. If simple, try to resolve via automation. If complex, let them choose their channel of completion.
  5. Set a proper expectation of wait time.
  6. Offer a callback.

Let’s take a quick dive into each part of the flow.

1. Segment the call.

In simplest terms, this is offering upfront info like, “For billing, press one.” But this could also be self-service information to segment: “To schedule an appointment, please go to the website and select the ‘Schedule’ menu.” The faster you can segment the customer, the more efficient their next steps will become.

2. Authenticate the call.

For more sensitive industries or topics, this is a chance to authenticate before you’re taking up valuable agent time.

3. Understand the intent of the call.

Once they’re segmented, this is the chance to find out what exactly they’re looking for. If it’s billing, this is your chance to find out if the call is about a billing problem, if it’s a need to pay a bill, if it’s an update to billing information, etc.“

4. Routing based on complexity.

If the need is simple, and your brand has a way to self serve, this is your chance to deflect: “To update your billing information, please log in to your account and select ‘Billing.’” If the issue is complex—or high value, like a revenue activity—then it’s time to get in touch with a human.

5. Set proper expectation of wait time.

Declaring an accurate estimated wait time is important up front, since this will influence a customer’s entire experience from there on out.

6. Offer a callback.

Whether it’s to meet SLAs or because customers don’t want to wait on hold, offering a callback is the number one way to improve the IVR experience. We advise to offer a callback if the estimated wait time every goes about two minutes.

Takeaway: Streamline your IVR call flow to create the least resistance between customers and call resolutions. Make it as easy as possible for them to connect with the right department or connect with a service agent.

2. Focus on a customer’s prior interactions.

We live in an omnichannel marketing environment, one where consumers quickly transition between websites, social media, text messages, phone calls, and a slough of other communication channels. And when it comes to interacting with a business, consumers want each of these communication channels to be connected.

Thirty-three percent of customers say they’re frustrated when they have to repeat themselves to multiple customer service representatives. This holds true for your IVR system, as well. When customers interact with an IVR and finally connect with a human operator, they don’t want to have to repeat everything they may have communicated in your IVR or other channels along the customer journey.

Takeaway: Your IVR should include a CRM integration so your agents can see real-time information on multi-channel customer behavior. They can then use this information to provide an enhanced, personalized customer experience. Try to minimize the number of times you have to verify a customer—if they’ve already verified over IVR, carry that information into your CRM and start the call off without the repeat.

3. Opt for a multi-functional/advanced IVR system.

Modern IVR systems allow customers to communicate more naturally across channels, tailoring menu options to bypass prompts they may have covered in another channel. This way, you ensure customers are either contained within the IVR through self-service, or are correctly routed to a proper agent. This will increase first contact resolution by minimizing internal transfers and reducing repetition.

American Airlines uses an advanced IVR system to automatically recognize the phone numbers of their members, addresses them personally, and offers customized menu options and call routing. This automation not only takes the burden off of their customer service agents, but boosts customer satisfaction (CSAT) before customers even interact with an employee.

Takeaway: Your IVR system should come equipped with advanced features like speech recognition and CRM integration to smooth out the customer experience.

4. Offer an option for a callback.

Put simply, customers dislike waiting. Effective forecasting does not always safeguard your call center from unforeseen demand and frustrating wait times.

By offering a callback option, customers can take control of their time knowling they’ll receive service from an actual agent without remaining on hold. Callback technology, such as Mindful’s callback, can maintain a customer’s position in a virtual queue, or schedule a convenient callback time when there is mutual availability from customer and agent. Customers feel empowered while you align demand to resource.

Takeaway: Offer callers a callback option in your IVR to put your customers (and your call center) in control of when they communicate with you. Learn more about our state of the art callback.

5. Keep every part of the customer journey in mind.

The customer journey doesn’t begin with a phone call. Customers have seen your marketing materials, scanned your website, and researched online before dialing a phone number. Your IVR needs to provide a continuation of their experience with your business or brand—not a place for them to get stuck or turned off.

There are several simple, yet powerful ways you can address customer needs through the IVR process:

  • Use a consistent, helpful tone through your IVR.
  • Avoid jargon or complex sentences that are difficult to follow over voice.
  • Keep the menu simple to avoid losing your customers before they connect with a service representative.

Takeaway: Treat your IVR as a stepping stone in the customer journey, not as a catch-all for when your customer service agents can’t get to the phone. The smoother the user experience with your IVR, the more likely they are to turn into a customer.

6. Provide regular—and accurate!—updates on their queue position or estimated wait time.

Callers can only handle the same elevator music for so long. Modern IVR technology can notify customers of their current position in the call queue, informing them of hold times and how many callers are ahead. If they don’t opt-in for a callback, the least you can do is provide assurance that they’re still in line.

If your company uses the Mindful’s callback solutions, you can utilize text message notifications to confirm callbacks and remind callers of their scheduled calls.

Takeaway: Don’t abandon your callers in the IVR. Provide an estimated wait time (EWT) for how long they have to wait before speaking with a customer service representative. Trouble with accurate EWT? Get in touch—we’ve guided the biggest brands in honing their EWT presentation for decades.

7. Inform customers that the contact center is closed after hours.

You’ve called a business, landed in their IVR menu, listened to their introduction and menu options, selected an option to speak to a representative, and then—five minutes later—hear that the service center is closed. Unfortunately, old IVR systems allow this to happen more often than not, and it’s led to frustrated customers who are less likely to call back during business hours.

Takeaway: Set up your IVR to immediately inform callers that they’ve called after hours. Then, offer self-service options, or—better yet—the option of scheduling a callback when customer service representatives are available.

8. Limit your IVR menu to five options.

Customers are seeking a fast and effective resolution to their questions or problems. Overwhelming customers with a wordy IVR menu loaded with too many options can lead to frustration—both with your IVR and, eventually, your customer service agents.

Streamline your IVR menu to only five menu options, and make it as easy as possible for a customer to connect with a customer service representative to resolve their problems. An IVR should offer a simple, clear flow for your customers, ensuring they speak to the right agent the first time.

Takeaway: Don’t make your customers wade through a bloated IVR menu. Limit your menu to five options, make it simple to navigate, and use it to put customers in touch with the right department at the right time.

9. Measure and manage your IVR regularly.

Customer demands are constantly evolving, and so should your IVR. Look at how previous customers have used your IVR in the past. Regularly monitor the most-frequented menu options and consider how you can improve the user experience.

Can you provide stronger self-service options to save time for your team or call center to spend on other callers? Do your current menu options still reflect the most popular queries (such as account information or account balances)? Or do you notice that callers bounce back and forth between menu options before asking to speak to an agent?

Occasionally, listen to your IVR as a customer would and honestly assess if you would be satisfied navigating it.

Takeaway: Regularly review your IVR menu to ensure it’s aligned with customer trends and reasons for calling. Try to listen with fresh ears, or ask a friend or family member to try out your IVR experience for candid, non-insider feedback.

10. Focus on the right metrics.

There are a near infinite number of key performance indicators (KPIs) and call center metrics that you can measure. However, you need to specifically focus on call center metrics that are indicative of quality. These metrics include:

Call center software often focuses on measuring the Average Handling Time (AHT) metric of agents. This is beneficial, but beware of how easy it is to manipulate this metric. A lower AHT may indicate that agents are more focused on rushing through incoming calls rather than providing excellent customer service.

Likewise, high containment rates may lead you to incorrect conclusions. Directing customers to self-service where appropriate can reduce call demand and high call volumes, but can also indicate that people become trapped within the IVR when what they really require is a personal touch.

Summing up

In today’s competitive, global market, the customer experience is often the differentiating factor between businesses and brands. Your IVR system is a critical component in your customer experience strategy. Designing and utilizing a modern, intuitive IVR solution with a clear, natural flow will ensure your callers receive a better customer experience when interacting with your business.

Find out how VHT can help your business make an effective first impression the next time your customer picks up the phone.

This post was originally published in September 2017, and has since been updated.

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