Common IVR
system problems
and how to
avoid them

Author: Paul Gillin

When used effectively, an interactive voice response (IVR) system can reduce costs by giving customers the ability to resolve many of their own problems and questions. And given that 81% of customers attempt to answer questions themselves before speaking to a live person, they can even improve customer satisfaction.

But IVR systems can be a mixed bag, and IVR problems are among the most vexing customer service issues. If you have ever hung up during a customer service call because you were stuck in a maddening menu loop or because the hold had extended past your lunch hour, you know the frustration a badly designed IVR can engender or cause.

By addressing these common issues, call center executives can make the experience one that delights both their customers and the CFO.

Limit unnecessary verbiage

There's a good chance many customers calling your support line are not in the best of moods. Don't make things worse by assaulting them with promotional messages or menu options that have nothing to do with speeding them toward a resolution.

Pay particular attention to limiting menu navigation. A good goal is to have no more than five top-level menu options and three sub-menus for each. Longer menus can easily confuse callers. Menus should be designed with an eye toward providing the most logical path to a solution based upon common customer inquiries.

And by the way, you don't have to say "www" anymore.

Offer a path to a live agent to help solve IVR problems

In their quest to minimize costs, some companies make it difficult or even impossible for customers to reach a live agent. Opinions may differ on this practice, but if the nature of your business is that many questions ultimately require human support, then the "get human" option should be easily available at every menu level.

Speaking to a live agent isn't necessarily the only resolution. You can also direct customers to a voicemail box that gives the option to leave a callback number. Some modern IVR systems even provide customers with an estimate of how long they'll have to wait until they receive a callback.

Set up activity triggers

Your IVR system should provide for real-time monitoring of customer activity as they navigate the menus. If callers are backtracking too much or punching in options that don't exist, a human operator should be alerted to intervene before the call is abandoned. Set thresholds that make this switchover automatic so you can rescue customers before they abandon you in frustration.

Make hold times bearable

If you must thrust customers into a queue to wait for a live agent, there are ways to make the experience less aggravating. One is to provide an estimate of the length of time they'll have to wait. This option is available in most of today's IVR systems. A second is to offer the option of a callback. Some IVR systems today even allow the person to specify a convenient time for the call.

Does anyone actually like “hold” music? If you must play it, choose something that's easy on the ear or invites the listener to sing along. Better yet, offer the option of turning off hold music entirely. And resist the impulse to insert promotional messages every few seconds. Customers calling with a problem are already being inconvenienced by being put on hold. 

Connect IVR to other systems

Most of today's IVR problems (and solutions) can be easily connected to customer relationship management (CRM) and automated call distribution (ACD) systems. CRM integration means customer records can be called up automatically based on the caller ID number and displayed to a service representative prior to connecting to the call. Reps are better prepared to respond and offer a positive customer experience because they know the customer's history and preferences.

ACD systems route calls automatically to the most appropriate representatives based upon factors including skills, language and availability. That minimizes hold times, improves first-call resolution rates and contributes to higher customer satisfaction.

Like it or not, IVR will be with us for a long time, but that doesn't mean it needs to be a source of customer friction. Done right, it can satisfy everyone involved and help eliminate potential IVR problems going forward. 

Learn how Verizon's network-based IVR services help improve customer interactions, reduce frustration and increase productivity.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.