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Best Practices for Enhancing IVR


Many firms are trying to determine the best ways to effectively implement self-service applications. Several have added Web-based tools and mobile apps to their customer- interaction portfolio. However, the IVR remains an important channel, and its effectiveness still has a significant impact on the customer experience. Therefore, it remains as important as ever to get the IVR right. The information contained in this article should be considered to facilitate the achievement of that goal.

Elements of Negative and Positive IVR Experiences

Research shows that customers find the following factors most aggravating about their IVR experiences:

  • To reach a representative and repeat information already spoken in the IVR
  • Difficulty navigating the system, often resulting in transfers. Common examples are:
    • Long, complicated, and outdated menu options
    • Menus that do not reflect callers' needs
  • Having to use account numbers, PINS, and passwords that are not readily accessible
  • Inconsistent commands
  • Inaccurate routing once the caller leaves the IVR

On the opposite spectrum, what do customers see as positive elements of an IVR experience?

  • Simplicity is number one -- arriving at a quick resolution that preferably does not involve agent interactions
  • Mobile friendly
  • Utilization of speech
  • Minimization of account numbers, PINS, and passwords
  • Options are customized to the callers' specific needs
  • Not having to repeat information entered in the IVR if agent interaction is required

The IVR Marketplace Today

Numerous recent studies that have crossed my desk show that a majority of IVR systems in the United States are touchtone only. While speech recognition has made an inroad, it has certainly not permeated the market. Based on this market profile, as well as the comments about negative IVR experience elements, it is no wonder that IVRs create significant customer frustration.

Can Enhanced Technology Help?

There are many technology solutions that are available today to enhance the customer experience, as discussed below.

Speech Recognition (ASR) -- As previously noted, utilization of speech is one of the factors that contributes to a positive IVR experience. Research I've seen has shown that the average length of a call can drop by 30% to 50% versus menu-driven touchtone IVR applications.

Natural Language Understanding -- Allows callers to use their own words to express the purpose of their call. Recent surveys show that 82% of customers desire "conversational" IVR applications.

Voice Biometrics -- Uses a voiceprint to authenticate the caller by matching hundreds of unique voice characteristics to the voiceprint on file. The benefits are countless, but a few include:

  • Fraud reduction
  • 80% faster than traditional authentication
  • An increase in IVR containment rates
  • Callers without access to credentials can proceed

Visual IVR (VIVR) for Mobile Applications -- Integrates the visual display of a mobile device with speech-enabled IVRs. When a caller chooses the option to use their Web-enabled smartphone instead of a standard IVR interface, a text message is sent. The customer clicks on a link, and is dropped onto a mobile webpage, already logged in.

IVR Integration with a CRM -- Enables personal caller greetings, assuming the caller can be recognized. Additionally, such integration introduces the possibility that the IVR can make an "educated guess" as to the caller's purpose, speeding up the interaction. Rich information about the caller interactions is also fed back into the CRM for record keeping and relationship management.

Virtual Assistants (e.g. artificial intelligence (AI) or bots) -- Utilize dynamic decision trees to ensure conversations don't hit a dead end, quickly resolving issues. Additionally, virtual assistants maintain a natural conversation cadence so customers don't experience delays, and the interaction feels like you're talking to a "real person."

IVR Integration with the Contact Center Solution -- Contact center reports can capture the customer experience across channels. A screen pop can be provided to an agent when a caller opts out of the IVR, and can include relevant information collected in the IVR (e.g., authentication) and a summary of the caller's actions in the IVR.

Best Practices to Implement Enhanced IVR Technology

It is clear there are many technologies available to enhance the caller's IVR experience, but technology alone will not bring the expected benefits to bear. The transition to a better customer experience requires careful planning and a thoughtful migration plan.


  • Review the current IVR applications to understand how they need to be changed to accommodate enhanced technology
  • Obtain feedback from key customers and front-line staff to determine existing gaps
  • Spend time calculating the expected ROI for the addition of enhanced technology. Include potential increases in containment rate and reduced agent handle time for callers who opt out to speak to an agent.
  • Reassess success measures


  • Design for "real-world" usage; take the customer perspective into consideration
  • Review the design with key internal and external stakeholders
  • Meet with internal developers and IT staff regarding back-end databases for information look ups and agent screen pops
  • Develop the desired reporting requirements
  • Document the design requirements
  • Meet with the solution provider to determine what is needed to meet the design


  • Establish an implementation project team, and the project plan
  • Develop a detailed test plan
  • Develop the communication and customer education requirements
  • Establish the plan to train customer-facing staff
  • Launch the applications, ideally on a pilot basis to key customers
  • Secure pilot feedback, and prepare for general launch

Continuous Improvement

  • Implement steps to garner feedback from key customers and front-line staff
  • Monitor reports and determine if results are meeting pre-implementation success expectations
  • Be prepared to make changes to accommodate feedback and results

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.