Out of 15 IVR Best Practices, You Only Need These 7

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Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are like digital receptionists—they help customers and agents alike by automating phone system tasks and providing useful information to callers. 

There’s a ton of benefits to using an IVR system—as long as you’re actually using them the right way.

Implementing advanced IVR strategies won’t only streamline your call center operations, but it will also show your customers that you prioritize the quality of their experience. In turn, you can improve your key performance indicators (KPIs) and ultimately, your bottom line.

When it comes to IVR, there’s a lot out there about strategies, tips, and best practices. But there are only seven IVR best practices that truly matter when it comes to improving your system and optimizing each caller’s experience.

1. Offer Personalized Greetings

Nobody likes to call a company and get a robotic, impersonal greeting. So if you’ve been using a generic voice for your IVR system, it may be time to make a change. Offering a personalized greeting will help callers feel more connected to your company and comfortable interacting with your IVR system.

What It Looks Like

To create a personalized IVR experience for callers, you’ll want to make sure that the welcome message is based on caller data. For example, when a customer calls, instead of hearing a generic greeting like “Welcome to ABC Company,” the IVR system could say “Hello Rachel, welcome to ABC Company.”

This small change can make a big difference in how customers perceive your company. A voice detection or IVR automation system can be integrated to collect and analyze caller data, such as the caller’s name or phone number, to make this possible.

Benefits

Personalized greetings enhance the customer experience by making interactions feel more personal and less mechanical. They can significantly improve customer satisfaction rates, one of the key call center KPIs.

This strategy also makes call routing more efficient, as personalized menus can be based on the customer’s history, which potentially reduces call handling time.

How to Implement Personalized Greetings

To get started with adding personalized greetings in your IVR system, follow these steps:

  1. Integrate your IVR and CRM: Your IVR system should be linked with your CRM or other relevant customer databases. This allows you to retrieve real-time data about callers.
  2. Choose the best call center software: Your software should be capable of real-time data retrieval and processing. It should also allow for the seamless integration of your IVR and CRM systems.
  3. Design a personalized IVR script: Use caller data such as phone numbers, previous interactions, and customer profiles to tailor greetings to each caller. Design your IVR script to include these personalized elements.
  4. Test and tweak regularly: Once your system is set up, you’ll want to test it regularly and make necessary adjustments to ensure optimal performance. Start by thoroughly having your team test the system, and then identify any areas for improvement.

Mistakes to Avoid

While personalized greetings can be beneficial, there are some common mistakes that businesses make when implementing them:

  • Using incorrect data: Make sure the data used for personalization is accurate and up-to-date. Outdated or incorrect information can make your customers feel like you don’t actually care about them.
  • Being too casual: While personalizing your IVR system helps create a relational environment, you also want to maintain a professional tone. Avoid using slang or informal language.
  • Not testing the system: If you don’t take the time to test your personalized IVR updates before going live, you may experience unexpected errors and inconsistencies. 

Remember, the goal of this strategy is to leverage customer information to provide context-specific options and greetings that make your caller feel valued and appreciated.

2. Implement Smart Routing Features

Routing is the structural foundation of your IVR system. It’s the process of connecting callers to the right agents or departments based on their needs and queries. And while you may think that routing is a basic IVR feature, there are advanced options available that will make things run more efficiently and ultimately create a better customer experience.

What Smart Routing Looks Like

Smart routing features in IVR systems use AI and data to direct calls to the best agent or department for your caller. This strategy involves sophisticated software that can analyze caller input, previous interactions, and even sentiment or tone to decide the best routing path.

Benefits of Smart Routing

Implementing or optimizing a routing system can create a huge reduction in call handling time, which is a vital KPI for any call center. It also improves the customer journey by reducing transfers and wait times, which ultimately leads to happier customers.

For agents, it also reduces the stress of handling complex queries outside their expertise.

A more advanced benefit of optimizing your smart routing features is that it allows you to fully utilize the intelligence of your system. You can specifically direct calls based on the agent’s skills, availability, or area of expertise. You can also elevate and more quickly route high-value customer calls to live agents, ensuring your best customers are quickly directed to your best agents.

How to Implement Smart Routing

It’s relatively easy to set up an IVR smart routing system. But to dig into the more advanced segmentation options, follow these steps:

  • Map out customer journeys: Get a clear picture of your customer’s journey by studying your CRM data, call logs, and conversations between agents and customers.
  • Identify key segments: Look for common traits or markers among different types of calls. For example, you may notice that most billing inquiries come from a specific demographic or region.
  • Group agents and skills: Determine which agents have the necessary skills, knowledge, or experience to handle specific types of calls.
  • Set up routing rules: Create rules that direct certain calls to designated groups of agents based on their skills or customer needs.
  • Monitor performance: Keep track of call distribution and agent performance to regularly reassess and adjust routing rules as needed,

When in doubt, you can refer to your IVR provider’s knowledge base or customer support team to guide you through the setup process and provide customized recommendations for your business.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid making the routing paths too complicated as it can confuse the system and lead to incorrect routing. While IVR systems are quite intuitive, complicated setups may cause delays or system errors.

Also, don’t neglect regular system updates and maintenance. If you’re not running on the most recent operating system or haven’t updated your IVR software in years, you may have limited functionality or miss out on new features.

3. Add Natural Language Processing (NLP) Technology

Natural language processing is a form of AI that allows computers to understand and interpret human language. This technology is skyrocketing in development, which allows call centers to use IVR systems to offer a more human-like and conversational experience.

What Natural Language Processing Looks Like

In a real-life call center environment, NLP technology integrated into IVR systems helps customers interact using their own words rather than pushing buttons. A caller may say “I want to make a payment” instead of pressing “1” for billing, which makes the experience feel more personal and intuitive.

Since NLP technologies are infused with AI, they can also understand the context of a conversation and remember previous interactions, which helps with more complex queries.

Benefits of NLP

Adding NLP to your IVR system can be a valuable investment for your call center. Here are some benefits:

  • Improved user experience: Customers feel more relaxed when they can talk naturally and have their needs met.
  • Reduced call durations: As customers use natural language, they’re more likely to get the right information faster, which reduces call duration and improves efficiency.
  • Lower agent workload: With complex tasks automated, agents can focus on more critical or high-value calls and build better relationships with customers.

How to Implement Natural Language Processing

Integrating NLP into your call center workforce management strategy may seem daunting, but it’s relatively simple with the right IVR provider.

  • Collect and process data: Collect as much data as possible, including previous call logs and recorded conversations to train your NLP models.
  • Customize for your business: Work with your IVR provider to customize NLP models for your specific business needs.
  • Test with various users: Test the system with a variety of customer queries and continuously refine it based on the results. The more diverse the queries, the more accurate and efficient your NLP system will become.

As you can see, implementing natural language processing abilities is all about training the AI, which means that your system will get smarter over time, leading to compounding benefits from this investment.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid relying solely on NLP without providing an option for customers to speak with a human agent or use their keypad for inputs.  While natural language processing can subtly detect emotions and respond, it’s not perfect. Therefore, offering an option to speak with a live agent is always important for customer satisfaction.

And since this technology is still evolving, regularly train and update your NLP models to stay ahead of the curve. If you don’t, you may risk providing incorrect information or responses to customers.

5. Create Multiple On-Hold Messages

When customers are on hold, you have the opportunity to direct their attention to a company announcement or promotion. But when the same on-hold message plays on a loop, it can be frustrating for the caller, especially if they’re trying to multitask while waiting for an agent.

Instead, add several messages that can offer new information that customers may not have known before. The key is to make sure these messages are actually helpful and provide value to your callers.

What Multiple On-Hold Messages Look Like

Creating multiple on-hold messages means that callers will hear something different each time, whether it’s a helpful tip, a product announcement, or even music. For example, if a caller has been on hold for more than five minutes, they may hear an invitation to follow the company on social media or learn about new promotions.

Benefits of Multiple On-Hold Messages

Adding additional on-hold messages is a small but effective way to improve your call center’s efficiency and customer experience. Here are some benefits:

  • Reduced dropped calls: By keeping callers engaged with new information, they’re less likely to hang up and call back later.
  • Decreased perceived wait time: Multiple on-hold messages keep the caller’s attention focused on something other than waiting, making time feel like it’s passing faster.
  • Increased brand awareness: This is a powerful marketing strategy that allows you to promote your company’s brand and values while customers wait.

It’s a real challenge to get customers to open emails, listen to sales pitches from agents, or open physical mail, so why not use the on-hold time to share information and build relationships? It can save everyone time while making the most out of each customer interaction.

How to Implement Multiple On-Hold Messages

Implementing this strategy starts with brainstorming a list of messages that may be useful to the person on the line. You’ll need to dig into your customer avatars as well as their interests and demographics to come up with helpful and effective messages.

Once your team has compiled the list, put a plan in place to rotate through these messages. You may also want to split test and track which message resonates most with callers. Another option is to target special offers or messages to a specific group.

By customizing messages for your audience, your caller will feel like they’re receiving a personally tailored experience, all through the magic and careful preparation of your automated message system.

Mistakes to Avoid

First and foremost, no matter how many messages you’re broadcasting on the hold line, make sure they’re relevant. If the content isn’t aligned with the needs of your client, your team may experience an uptick in dropped calls or even complaints.

Other common mistakes include playing messages that are too long, have poor sound quality, or feel misaligned with the brand. Make sure your quality and cohesion standards are met, as it’s easy to overlook these small details when getting started.

5. Increase Accessibility for All Callers

It’s essential to make sure your call center caters to the needs of all customers, whether that means your callers have visual impairments, hearing impairments, or other physical challenges. And your IVR system is capable of making the necessary accommodations.

What Increased Accessibility Looks Like

Visually impaired customers may have difficulty navigating traditional IVR menus and options. But with text-to-speech technology, your system can read menu options out loud to guide the caller through the selection process.

For hearing-impaired customers, offering a chatbot or SMS options can make all the difference. By texting their query, they can receive the same level of support as someone who is speaking on the phone.

You can also make sure you’re using an IVR system that can easily interface with braille display devices. This allows customers to navigate menus and make selections without needing to hear or see them.

Other accessibility best practices include making sure your selection options are clear, minimizing background noise, and providing the option to repeat menu options. You can even integrate an adjustable speed control which can help those with cognitive impairments process information more easily.

Benefits of Increased Accessibility

There are several benefits to providing increased accessibility for all callers:

  • Shows that you care: By providing communication options for all customers, you show your company’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity while making a real difference in people’s lives.
  • Become a preferred choice: By making it easier for anyone to access your services, you create a loyal customer base who will continue to choose your company over competitors.
  • Increased efficiency: By providing accessible options and accommodations, you reduce the need for call transfers or additional support channels. This translates into faster resolution times and improved efficiency for your call center.

Organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of accessibility and inclusivity, so implementing these features in your call center adds a modern and helpful touch that will only increase in value over time.

How To Implement Increased Accessibility

Implementing increased accessibility is less about adding one new feature and more about making it a standard practice that applies to multiple aspects of your call center. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Start by conducting an audit of your current IVR system and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Work with accessibility experts or consultants to ensure that all changes meet compliance standards and cater to diverse needs.
  • Train your team on how to navigate accessibility features within the IVR system.

By incorporating these practices, you can provide a seamless and inclusive experience for everyone who engages with your center.

Mistakes to Avoid

Many people create features that are meant to improve accessibility, only to find that they’re exclusionary in their way. For example, adding a chatbot option to help hearing-impaired individuals may not be effective if the bot primarily uses voice commands.

Another common mistake is not ensuring that the accessibility features are easy to navigate and use. If a person needs to follow three additional prompts to reach an accessibility feature, they may simply hang up or opt for a different support channel.

6. Add IVR-to-SMS Functionality

If you’re just using IVR for call-related tasks, it’s time to integrate all of your communications into one multichannel contact center. From integrating a VoIP system to creating email and social media support options, you’ll be able to take calls from a variety of mediums easily.

One of the most effective ways to branch into multichannel offerings is by adding SMS functionality to your IVR system.

This means that your IVR system has the capability of sending and receiving text messages to and from customers. This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for customer support and engagement in a modern and convenient way.

What IVR-to-SMS Functionality Looks Like

IVR-to-SMS functionality allows callers to choose to receive information through a text message while interacting with your IVR, often speeding up the resolution process. It works seamlessly, and the transition from call to text is usually instant.

You can use this technology to field customer inquiries such as appointment confirmations, order updates, account balances, and service requests. The options are endless, and you can customize them to meet the specific objectives of your business and customers.

Benefits of IVR-to-SMS Functionality

The main benefit of adding SMS functionality to your team is reduced handling time, and this reduced time can be significant in comparison to other best practices on this list.

For example, if a customer chooses to receive an update through text message rather than waiting for it on the phone, they can move on with their day.

This also helps agents better manage multitasking by freeing them up to handle other calls while waiting for a text response.

How to Implement IVR-to-SMS Functionality

If you’re working with an IVR provider, they should be able to set up IVR-to-SMS functionality with ease. You can also opt for a standalone SMS application that integrates with your current IVR system. This allows you to choose the specific features and capabilities that best suit your business needs.

Here are a few steps for getting started: 

  • Choose a trusted SMS provider that offers reliable and secure service.
  • Integrate the SMS application into your IVR system or work with your provider to set it up.
  • Train your team on how to use this feature or onboard new agents who specifically field SMS communications.

Once implemented, make sure to regularly test and monitor the functionality to ensure it’s working smoothly for both customers and agents. Keep an eye out for updates to ensure everything runs smoothly down the line.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid overuse of this feature—not all solutions are best delivered via text. Also, ensure customer consent before sending texts to comply with regulations. Lastly, avoid technical jargon in your SMS messages; you want to keep things clear and simple.

7. Simplify Your Menu Options to Reduce Customer Frustration

You may think that creating a simple menu is a beginner’s task, but many call center menus are complex and confusing and require regular optimization. Taking a step back and editing down your options is the best first step before implementing more sophisticated systems.

What IVR Simplification Looks Like

IVR simplification begins with an in-depth analysis of your current call flows, from the first prompt to agent handoff. You can track and document each level of your menu and determine whether it is necessary or if it can be combined with other options.

For example, if a caller is given the option to speak with a live agent, they may also have options for billing, technical support, and general inquiries. Instead of having separate prompts for each option, you can combine them under one prompt labeled “all other inquiries” or something similar.

Benefits of IVR Simplification

Simplifying your IVR menu can bring a lot of benefits to your call center, including:

  • A faster and more streamlined customer experience, reducing frustration and increasing satisfaction.
  • Easier setup of more advanced IVR optimizations such as speech recognition.
  • Improved call routing, reducing misdirected calls and increasing efficiency for agents.
  • Potential cost savings by reducing the need for additional prompts or menu options.

Simplifying your IVR menu also makes it easier to train agents on the system, and also makes it easier for customers to navigate the menu and find the option they need. This leads to better overall customer service and a more positive perception of your company.

How to Implement IVR Simplification

Here are a few steps to follow when implementing IVR simplification:

  • Analyze your current call flows and document each prompt and menu option. Notice if any prompts are barely used, as well as which ones customers usually select.
  • Pay attention to your customer complaints to identify pain points that can be resolved with a simpler menu schema.
  • Combine similar options under one prompt, removing any unnecessary prompts or options.
  • Test the new simplified menu with a small group of callers to gather feedback and make any necessary adjustments.

Mistakes to Avoid

It’s easy to change too much too fast when updating your IVR menu, which can be confusing or frustrating for both customers and agents. Because of this, it may be best to simplify things one step at a time. This way, you can gather feedback on each change and make sure it’s working as intended before making further changes.

Critical KPIs to Keep an Eye On

There are different types of call centers, and each one may have different KPIs that they focus on. However, there are a few key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be applied to nearly every call center to measure success and identify areas for improvement.

KPIs can let your company know how implemented strategies perform so you can stay on track. Here are some of the most effective call center metrics to keep track of:

Average Handle Time

Average handle time (AHT) is the average length of time it takes for an agent to handle a call. This includes the total hold time, talk time, and related tasks. A high AHT might suggest your IVR menu is too complex or confusing, causing callers to spend extra time navigating it. A low AHT can indicate efficiency in both call routing and agent performance.

Call Abandonment Rate

This is the percentage of callers who hang up before reaching an agent. If your call abandonment rate is high, it could indicate a long wait time or difficulty navigating the IVR menu. It may also suggest that callers are unable to find the option they need, leading them to give up and end the call.

First Call Resolution

First call resolution (FCR) measures how often a customer’s issue is resolved on their first contact with the company. This metric is vital to customer satisfaction and retention, as it shows that your call center is efficient and effective in addressing customer needs.

Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) measures the overall happiness of customers with their experience of your call center. It can be measured through surveys, feedback forms, or even tracking repeat calls from the same customer. A high CSAT score suggests that your call center is meeting customer needs and providing a positive experience.

Self-Service Usage

This key performance metric assesses the percentage of callers who resolve their issues using the IVR system without needing to speak to an agent. A low usage rate could indicate that your IVR system isn’t intuitive or helpful enough, pushing customers to seek human assistance.

How to Start Using IVR in Your Call Center

If your call center is not currently using IVR, it may seem daunting to try to start implementing a new system. However, the benefits of IVR for call centers can greatly outweigh any initial challenges.

Starting to use IVR in your call center is straightforward with software like Nextiva. It comes with a pre-set IVR design and features that streamline call routing and enhance customer service.

Setting up your own system can be resource-intensive, but Nextiva simplifies the process with its user-friendly interface and robust capabilities. From custom greetings to advanced routing options, it’s an all-encompassing solution.

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