Improve the customer experience of your CCC by optimizing interactive voice response (IVR)
In contact centers, the IVR is a crucial tool for routing calls and collecting data. Usually configured by the phone provider, it is sometimes adjusted when it no longer meets the needs of the organization. For customers, it is often an absolute nightmare. It represents a labyrinth of futility where abandonment is the only option.
Recently, we were contacted by a company whose customers struggled to reach their agents. Surprisingly, it was the marketing department that took the first steps, realizing that the best advertising strategy was no match against an IVR that repelled customers.
Thus, in the context of improving the customer experience, we proposed the following best practices.
Call distribution options and the customer experience
The positive effect of IVR on the customer experience can be debated. However, an inadequate IVR will always have a negative impact on customer satisfaction. It is important not to forget that the initial phone reception represents the first impression of the company!
45% of consumers (United States) abandon the purchasing process if they cannot find the answers to their questions quickly enough. 
When designing or redesigning the call distribution options, operational requirements are often prioritized at the expense of the customer experience. To avoid such a situation, it is important to keep customer effort to a minimum by efficiently targeting their needs.
To achieve this, involve several departments in the design of the IVR. We suggest, for example, the inclusion of employees or operational managers, one or more employees of marketing or communications and a systems expert.
The Best Practices
In addition to LOEM’s experience in this field, a recent study was conducted by SoftwareAdvice.com  to analyze call distribution and identify best practices in the industry by consulting 50 Fortune 500 companies.
The menus and options
Menus must consist of a maximum of 5 choices. Beyond this and the customer quickly loses patience and will tend to enter zero before reaching the end. For these same reasons, it is important to put the options that receive the most traffic early in the list and place the “other” options at the end.
According to the SoftwareAdvice.com study, 86% of the companies surveyed that experienced success used a call distribution structure with 5 options or less.
Depending on your business model and your strategic direction, you can choose to prioritize for new business development or for your existing customer base. However, keep in mind that the configuration of these options will speak volumes about your company’s priorities!
Finally, the IVR can consist of a maximum of 3 submenus. The more complicated the menu options, the increased likelihood of error on the customer’s part.
The length of the messages
The greeting message and subsequent options should not be too long. The longer the messages are, the more information they contain which could lead to confusion.
In the study cited previously, the majority of greetings lasted less than 7.9 seconds and the length of the options averaged 4 seconds and rarely exceeded 8 seconds.
The client must be able to quickly access the available options to avoid losing patience and prematurely selecting the zero option.
The message content
The vocabulary should be simple, jargon-free and must respect the words used in the organization’s communications. Clear without being mundane!
We must also avoid advertising messages in the call distribution options. The IVR is not an occasion to advertise a product or service. We must remove all barriers between the client and their final objective.
The voice used for the call distribution must be the same, for all services and departments, to ensure consistency within the organization. Furthermore, research has shown that the brain prefers a female voice! 
The zero option is the sworn enemy of all contact centers. It causes many “pollutant calls”  that negatively impact statistics. In fact, the high number of customers who select the zero is direct evidence of the inadequacies of the current call distribution options. Either the choices do not reflect the needs of the customer, or the caller has simply lost patience with them.
LOEM recommends leaving the zero option available without advertising it. The lack of human assistance can be an irritant for some clients; however we must not openly encourage this behavior.
Do not forget to:
- Reduce customer effort by streamlining the call distribution options to adequately meet customer needs;
- Eliminate confusion by simplifying messages and limiting the number of menus and options;
- Involve members of different departments in the design of the IVR.
- Using the IVR as a means to advertise your products or services;
- Placing the most frequently chosen options at the end of the menu;
- Using different voices and vocabulary throughout the IVR.
François-Léo Gasse, M.Sc.
Contact Center Business Analyst
Sources & Notes
 Forester (2012), Understanding Customer Service Satisfaction To Inform Your 2012 eBusiness Strategy.
 SoftwareAdvice.com (2014), IVR design lessons from the fortune 500, www.softwareadvice.com
 CNN (2011), Why computer voices are mostly female, http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/21/tech/innovation/female-computer-voices/
 Pollutant calls, also described as « fake calls », are calculated many times in statistics, because they are answered with different IVR lines.