Using your IVR for good instead of evil

The Alltel Team
The Alltel Team

An IVR (Interactive Voice Response), also called an Automated Attendant or Call Forwarding Menu, provides businesses with a convenient way to direct incoming calls to the correct person or department. Unfortunately for many callers, an IVR can all-too-often be a source of stress and frustration. We've probably all suffered through IVRs that have menu choices that seem to go on forever. Worse still is when you choose the wrong option and the IVR hangs up on you! To get around this, callers often select the option for sales (regardless of the reason for their call) in the belief it will move them to the top of the queue and get their call answered faster.

The truth is that a well-designed IVR can help callers get to the person they want to speak to more quickly (with a minimum of stress).

What is an IVR?

Let’s start with a quick overview that explains what an IVR is.

An IVR is the recorded message and selection menu you hear when calling many businesses. A typical IVR answers the call with the business name and often thanks the customer for calling and provides the business hours of operation. It then launches into the selection menu, for example, "To speak to Sales, Press 1. To speak to Support, Press 2."

Businesses can also use their IVR message during service interruptions and other events to quickly provide information to callers. For example, during a service outage, an IVR message could tell callers when services will return to normal. This is likely to provide many callers with the answer they are after without requiring them to wait on the line until someone is available to talk to them.

How to do it properly

The following tips and hints are provided to help businesses (and their customers) achieve the best experience, and receive the best benefits, from an IVR system:

  • NEVER hang up on someone without giving them an option to leave a message or start again from the top-level menu!
  • Keep it short. Callers should feel that the IVR is taking less or the same time as a human receptionist would take to connect their calls.
  • Ensure that IVR options are in a logic order. Start with the most commonly requested options, and finish with an option to hear the selections again or to speak to an operator or leave a message.
  • Provide the option description BEFORE the option number (for example, to speak to someone in sales, press 2).
  • Don’t include too many options in an IVR menu (try to limit to between 3 and 5). For complicated selections, provide additional options in sub-menus.
  • Provide callers with an escape option that allows them to speak to an operator if they are having trouble making a selection.
  • Mention office hours so that callers know when someone will and won’t be available to talk to them. Businesses should also consider using a live answering service so that calls can still be answered outside of regular office hours.
  • Consider hiring a voiceover professional to record the IVR menu, which ensures that it can be easily understood by all callers.

In short, businesses need to put their callers' experience first. It will likely require some testing and fine-tuning to get things right, but that is time and effort well spent. Everyone wins when an IVR is quick and simple to use, it directs calls to the correct place on the first attempt, and callers are not stressed and are happy to talk to you when you answer their call.

IVR services work with a business's existing phone number including landline, VoIP, 13/1300 numbers, 1800 numbers and SmartNumbers. They can direct calls to any extension within the current phone system, and also to external landline and mobile numbers, and to live answering or voicemail services.

Visit Alltel's web site to find out more about IVR call forwarding (and related virtual office services).

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