How to design a successful Interactive Voice Response Application (IVR) in 12 steps.

IVR is a software (script) application that allows customers to interact with a company’s (private branch exchange) PBX using the telephone keypad or by speech recognition. The script plays audio files and is waiting for the user for the next action. Its scope is to route the call to the right people.

Have you ever been to a situation of a long waiting call, while you are listening to messages or even worst into a situation in which after 2 – 3 minutes of voice messages and keypad selections you end up with a call drop?

Did you like it? Then don’t do the same to your customers.

A successful IVR consists of three main characteristics.

• Plan and design the scenario using pen and paper (or electronic sketch tools)

• Short clear and informative audio prompts.

• Training of the users on how to use PBX functions like voice mail, missed calls, and follow me. It is essential to explain to the users what the system does and give them 2 or 3 simple options to choose from. For example on how they want to proceed with the call routing; Voicemail, Mobile forward, send the call to another colleague

It is time to get in details on how you can design and complete the IVR scenario in an effective way, though there may be cases that the IVR might have different planning in order to satisfy unique scenarios.

  1. 1) Be short & informative. State your company’s name. People always waiting to hear an audible response from a known voice or someone that confirms that they have dialled the correct number.
  2. Before you continue to do anything else, introduce the option for different language/s. If for example your second language is English inform the caller. “For English please press 9 (whatever you design it must be recorded into two languages). This will save time from people that do not understand the first language and would like to switch to a different one. In multi branch companies try to have local language as your first choise.
  3. If you decide to provide the caller with directory functionality (in other words to let callers dial an extension directly) it is now the correct time to say “if you know the extension number of the person you are calling please dial it now”. Be very careful and ALWAYS ask people before you add them into the IVR’s list. Consider the fact that your CEO for example should not be reached directly.
  4. Start presenting the options for the customer beginning with the department that answers the most of the incoming calls. For example “For Sales please press 1, For Marketing 2”. Give 5 options at max including the “press 0 for operator” at the end.
  5. You should consider, a plan and implement the scenario for non-working hours. What happens? Where do you root the call? Voice mail? Mobile? Train your employees with a video showing how to retrieve voice mail, how to use missed calls and establish a common routine, which reminds them to check their voice mail (as a priority), every time they arrive at the office. MWI led (Message waiting indicator) is a common led that will blink every time there are new voicemail messages.
  6. Ask people where should you direct their calls when they are not around. Use the follow me option to redirect the call to their mobile but be careful. You have to explain that when you reroute the call to a mobile there is cost as this is an outgoing call, so be sure to get permission to do it. Additionally check how long the follow me procedure will take in terms of seconds for the caller. You may either inform the caller to hold the line and the call will be answered shortly, or immediate reroute the call if for example the salesman is outside and the do not disturb button is switched on at his/her desktop IP phone.
  7. Train your operator/s. They must have a list with names and numbers handy, and Busy Light Fields consoles (multicolour leds / buttons which lit the current state of each user –green for free, red for busy, orange for ringing -). This will make it faster to send the call from the operator to the correct person.
  8. In case you have a lot of incoming calls for example when people dial technical support, use call queues. Make sure you have configure your PBX to remind people (using audio messages) what there place in the queue is and always use music on hold (or music with audible messages to prepare them for the next step, for example use a prompt please have your serial number ready “to inform them they will need the serial number of their product to get tech support).
  9. It is possible to have multiple conference rooms connected to the IVR so that people can attend a voice conference. In this case ensure you have the inbound capacity to do it and of course assign passwords to each room. Passwords have to be changed periodically if not after the end of each conference call. So if you provide the IVR with this functionality consider who will be the administrator of the room and have the responsibility of changing the password.
  10. Always test, test and retest the whole scenario. Ask employees for feedback. Next plan the scenarios for holidays or other occasions that could lead to different scenarios. Record all the audio files at the end after you have already have a complete scenario written in paper.
  11. Do not forget to record holidays, maintenance emergency or other messages. Especially if you are using professional speakers (recording the voice prompts) it is very common that if you decide that you need a message for next day, you will not be able to get it in time.
  12. Finally you should loop each voice prompt twice in case the callers missed the information. After that you should not hang up but redirect the call to the operator. When a user has already been in the second, or third level of your IVR (try not to exceed two) don’t forget to inform at the end that they may press * (star button) to return to the main menu.

You will understand that your IVR is effective if you can reach people in less than half a minute. As a conclusion it is wise that in case you d like to change the voice prompts because you are bored or because you d like to add music on them, never change the options order from the predefined one. Callers tend to memorize sequences of numbers and after a while they do not listen to the voice prompts. They dial your number and after hearing the first part of the sound message (music or even first word) they immediately continue to dial key 3 (for technical support) and then 5 (for hardware), because this has become a routine for them, so try not to change it.

You should now have a plan and know what to avoid. Final thought on the design of the IVR is that if you have 25 employees that want different unique functionalities (when for example they are not in the office) don’t go for it. Establish a policy that everyone can follow. Most calls are missed because no one knows to whom it has been routed at. In this case 24 out of 25 employees will not know who got the call because they have something different on their mind. On the top of that it is easier to change one rule later if needed, rather than 25 rules.


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