Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated technology that lets telephone users interact with a computer-operated system for information gathering and navigation purposes. It utilizes text-to-speech engines and/or pre-recorded messages through a dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) system, helping callers get the information they seek without needing to talk to a human agent.
Similarly, an IVR menu is the touch-tone dial pad or speech-recognition interface that helps callers navigate the IVR experience.
Even with the surge of AI, IVR still has a place in contact centers today—especially for those that can offer self-service options or have limited live agent support.
For starters, it’s more affordable and has a much easier entry point compared to AI-enhanced IVR. It also saves time with agent-specific routing, provides year-round 24/7 support, and gives customers the option to help themselves directly.
If you’re unsure if you and your business still need an IVR menu, you’re not alone. Many contact center operators and managers are asking themselves the same question—and that’s because there are still many benefits to using an IVR menu.
8 Reasons Why IVR Menus Are (Still) Useful
1. Greater cost savings
One of the main benefits of IVR is that it offers significant cost savings for contact centers.
By acting as an automated receptionist for a customer service team, an IVR menu reduces the need for excessive staffing by serving as the first point of contact. It also takes the burden of routine or repetitive tasks off agents, freeing them up from having to answer common questions about business hours or providing basic account information.
This means businesses and organizations will be able to use their staff’s time more effectively by redirecting them to where they’re needed the most.
2. Improved efficiency and productivity
By streamlining the customer journey, automating tasks, and identifying customer problems more rapidly, contact centers can become much more efficient. This also boosts productivity, as it frees up staff and resources to handle more complex and important tasks more often.
3. Better customer service
By employing functionality like Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), callback management, and call prioritization, IVR technology can reduce wait times, improve resolution rates, and give customers the information they need quickly. All of this translates into better customer service, ultimately boosting customer satisfaction as well.
4. Useful for data collection and customer research
IVR can also be used to collect customer data automatically, which helps businesses and organizations gain greater insights into their customers and clients—not to mention how it takes care of another repetitive task.
Similarly, by providing a way to collect data on KPIs such as resolution rates, customer satisfaction, and call volume, IVRs can give businesses a way to stay informed about their customer base and improve decision-making in the future.
5. Scalable and flexible
IVR is highly scalable, meaning it can handle variable call volumes without the need to hire or trim the number of staff. It can also expand to include more menu options and functionality as your business or products grow and change.
6. 24/7 customer support
An IVR menu isn’t tied down by typical workday hours. Instead, it functions 24/7, giving customers the information and support they need, even on weekends, in the middle of the night, and during holidays. With this constant availability of customer support—especially self-service options like bill pay—your customers will feel less stressed if they need important information at any time of the day.
7. Fewer errors
Sometimes, call transfer errors or other kinds of miscommunication happen between call agents and customers, leading to frustration and a disappointing customer experience. However, IVR menus give callers the opportunity to initiate their own transfers, leading to far fewer miscues and errors committed by agents.
Lastly, an IVR menu allows for extensive customization options, making it simple to align it with your business or organization’s needs. This improves customer brand perception and plays an important role in building a positive reputation for your customers and clients.
When it Does (and Doesn’t) Make Sense to Use an IVR Menu
In general, an IVR menu is a good idea for small businesses with a small service department or a limited number of live agents because it offers an automated system that takes the burden off agents and it gives callers a quick way to get connected with the department they need.
That said, an IVR menu can also work well for certain larger companies and specialized businesses. For example, since it provides automated support for live agents, improves customer support, and offers 24/7 services throughout the year, IVR is a solid choice for high-traffic businesses that prioritize customer service and support—such as ecommerce and telecommunications companies.
Similarly, IVR is also a good option for medical offices and other kinds of healthcare providers, as it gives callers immediate access to emergency services and specialized medical care options.
In some instances, modern VoIP phone systems and advanced technology like Interactive Virtual Assistants (IVA), smart IVR, conversational IVR, and chatbots could work better than IVR systems. This depends on factors such as call volume, types of inquiries, the needs of your customer base, the complexity of your company, the size of your business, and more.
For instance, if you only have 25 or so agents at your small business and your contact center needs to handle large call volumes, investing in technology like chatbots and Smart IVR can be a wise move that can help you scale up.
For businesses with mid-sized contact centers of roughly 25 to 100 agents dealing with simple or repetitive tasks, IVR is oftentimes the way to go due to its cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and flexibility. That said, if your call center needs to provide a superior customer experience or requires extra support to handle complex customer inquiries, then advanced technology like chatbots, smart IVR, conversational IVR, and IVA might be better.
Finally, larger companies and contact centers with over 100 agents—especially those with high call volumes—should probably consider investing in advanced technologies to provide additional support for their agents, reduce call volumes, cut caller wait times, improve customer satisfaction, and boost overall productivity.
This is especially true if the company’s agents regularly have to handle complex or technical questions on a daily basis. While these technologies are more expensive than the more basic IVR option alone, their improvements to customer satisfaction rates, multiple communication channels, and greater efficiencies can pay dividends in the long run.
How to Design Your IVR Menu: Best Practices
If you’re looking to optimize your IVR menu, keep these best practices in mind to ensure a seamless customer journey and the best customer experience possible.
Map out the customer journey and experience
Before you start blasting your IVR menu out in the wild, you should carefully map out how it will work—and be sure to keep the customer experience front and center.
It’s a good idea to create a visual map of all your departments, as this can help you make a sensible call-routing plan that maximizes efficiency and minimizes transfers. Once you’ve fully mapped out a streamlined and intuitive menu that optimizes the customer journey, implementing it will become much easier.
Use a realistic-sounding voice
Choosing a realistic-sounding voice will make customer conversations more natural and help them feel more at ease. A familiar and natural voice can also elevate your organization’s branding and customer retention efforts.
Keep everything simple, concise, and clear
A menu that’s too long and complex will frustrate customers, interrupt their journey, and lead them to a poor experience. In fact, many customers will abandon the process altogether if it’s too complicated.
Instead, focus on keeping your menu simple, streamlined, and intuitive. To do that, limit your menu to five or fewer options to give your customers the most important and relevant choices they need.
Likewise, your opening menu greeting should only be 10 seconds or less, while each specific menu description should be about five seconds or less. By keeping everything simple and concise, the customer is much less likely to feel overwhelmed or lose patience.
Always give the option to speak with a live agent
It’s always important to give customers the option to speak to a live agent right away in case the menu doesn’t present any options that they specifically need.
If the option to speak directly to a live agent is buried in a submenu or nonexistent, customers can grow frustrated and abandon the call. Some customers may simply feel more comfortable talking to a live agent or have trouble working with the menu. In any case, just be sure to include the option to speak directly with a live agent in your main menu.
Link to your departments
Another good practice is to link to your main departments in your top-level menu.
While the specific type and number of departments varies by business or organization, it’s typically a good idea to include your technical support, billing, and sales departments if you have them.
By offering callers your departments on your main menu, you can connect customers with exactly what they need faster, cut down on wait times, optimize the customer journey, and minimize the number of call transfers.
IVR menus are a great place to address FAQs, too.
This way, you can lessen the burden on your live agents and give callers the answers they need quickly. Some of the most common elements to include here are your business hours and location, your website’s address, account information, privacy notices, and the like. Just make sure you don’t overload callers with details that can waste their time.
Offer a callback option
Finally, don’t forget to include a callback option.
This can help you prevent customer frustration from having to stay on the line for an unknown amount of time. Meanwhile, it can also help your agents manage their call volumes throughout the day.
Optimize Your IVR Menu Today
IVR menus can still make sense for your call center, but they need to be the right fit for your specific operations—and you need to optimize them for your customers.
In the end, having a better understanding of the circumstances in which an IVR menu works best will help you design a practical IVR that will improve the customer journey and boost your team’s productivity.