The Truth about Interactive Voice Response

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) seems to be everywhere – and no one likes them! You call a company and get a recording. Who wants that? In response to frustration with infuriating IVR systems that give endless levels of options, many people seek to bypass the machine by pressing zero – often times, repeatedly – in an attempt to talk to a real person. Sometimes this works; other times it doesn’t.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

If a company has no real regard for its customers, then they should tighten up their IVR system. Force callers to spend more time interacting with a machine so that their employees spend less time interacting with callers; do everything possible to block customers from talking to their staff; and hold down costs to make their department look good.

That’s fine if they have a captive customer base, operate a monopoly, or believe it’s easier to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. Otherwise, they need to listen, really listen, to what the buying public is saying, because, in this case, the customer is right.

IVR does have its place in business, but we need to not overstate what that place is. If IVR can truly speed up the call for the customer or gather information that actually can assist the call center agent in providing better, more effective service, then use an IVR.

However, when the primary goal of IVR becomes saving money, reducing the employee headcount, or limiting customer service options, then it needs to be put on the scrapheap of bad ideas.

If your company uses an IVR, I urge you to consider my IVR recommendations:

IVR Dos:

  • Always, always provide the option for the caller to press 0 to talk to a person.
  • Provide short and basic options that can be readily understood by someone from outside your company.
  • Ask customers, and even friends, to call and test your IVR. Then fix the things that bug them.
  • Set up your company’s IVR exactly as you would want one to work if you were calling someone else.

IVR Don’ts:

  • Don’t block the digit 0. “The customer is always right” and if the customer wants to talk to a person, let them.
  • Don’t prompt for an account number if the operator is going to ask for it again.
  • Don’t have callers make a selection (such as for “billing”) and then not tell the call center agent which option they picked.
  • Don’t route callers to a general-purpose call center agent after making the caller take the time to tell the IVR specifically why they’re calling. Skip the deception and just route the call.
  • Don’t provide level after level of long menu options; keep the options short and simple.
  • Don’t force a mildly irritated customer to go through a long and cumbersome IVR tree, because they will exit it highly irritated – and take it out on your staff.

The truth is that for most companies IVR is broken and needs to be fixed. What are you going to do about it?

Customer Service Success Tip: Evaluate your IVR system with an open mind and then fix its problems.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.