6 Best Practices for Setting Up a Smooth IVR Phone Tree


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An interactive voice response (IVR) is an automated phone menu for customers to interact with instead of a live agent. They present a tree of options for customers to serve themselves, thus giving businesses an efficient and cost-effective way to route calls and solve certain issues. 

For callers, an IVR can reduce wait times and deliver a better customer experience. As long as it’s easy to navigate, customers can quickly interact with a reliable system on their own and find solutions whenever they want or need. 

However, setting up an IVR phone tree isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. 

If done improperly, menu selections can be confusing, and some users may find the phone tree experience to be impersonal—especially when they fail to reach a live agent. Meanwhile, bad phone trees can also lead to higher call abandonment rates, longer caller wait times, and more disconnections.

Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of the best practices for making a smooth IVR phone tree. Otherwise, you can inadvertently create a negative customer call experience. 

1. Limit Options for IVR Phone Tree Menus

IVRs use menus to streamline call flows into your call center, routing them to the appropriate business departments and agents. For your phone tree to perform effectively, you must be mindful of configuring IVR menus so they flow coherently. 

The dictum “less is more” accurately applies to IVR phone tree menus. Therefore, limiting the number of options is the first best practice you ought to follow.

When dealing with a large customer base with various needs, including as many menu options as possible might be tempting—but don’t do it. Tons of options can create unnecessary confusion for users, heightening the odds of people running out of patience and abandoning the call or requesting an agent immediately. 

For this reason, design your IVR to provide multilevel information with a maximum of five top-level entries to mitigate information overload. 

Furthermore, brevity might be the soul of wit, but it is also the currency of attention, so keep your prompts and other messages as concise as possible. Scrutinize and trim the fat off your introductory messages so they don’t exceed 10 seconds, and limit subsequent menu messages to about five seconds each. 

2. Strategically Map Out the Call Flow and Customer Experience Journey

One of the best ways to start setting up an IVR phone tree is to be deliberate in the way you map out the options. Planning, devising, and visualizing the entire call routing experience enables you to optimize the caller’s journey. 

During the planning process, focus on common customer needs while also prioritizing other important business objectives. These considerations are necessary because they help you create and refine an ideal customer experience. 

If necessary, you can use affordable graphic design software like Canva to sketch out and visualize your phone tree. Of course, old-fashioned pen and paper also work for mapping out the structure. 

Provide language options first

If your product serves an international audience, start by having callers select their language of preference right away. It’s simply not a great idea to subject your callers to lengthy bits of information in a language they don’t understand. Instead, ensure your callers are greeted in their local language, facilitating meaningful communication. 

In addition to using multilingual services when warranted, you should also try to use unique verbiage for each menu option. If everything sounds similar to callers because you’ve used the same phrases and words, it could be more difficult than it has to be for them to differentiate between menu options. Furthermore, spicing up the menu is appealing and natural sounding to callers.

Lastly, if you offer time-sensitive services, you may also want to consider providing customers with IVR choices that differ depending on the time of the day.

3. Record the IVR Menu With a Natural, Realistic-sounding Voice

A phone tree’s main objective is to provide customers with personalized self-service. Since this involves interacting with customers in natural language, it behooves you to select a natural-sounding, realistic voice that puts them at ease—or at least one that doesn’t stand out.

To achieve this, most IVR platforms allow you to record and upload your own audio recordings. Alternatively, you can also use text-to-speech (TTS) technology to convert text prompts into spoken audio. With some platforms, you can even choose a hybrid of human voice actors combined with TTS.

The aim of using a realistic voice is to boost your customer’s user experience by inviting them to participate in a natural conversation. Thus, until the tech gets really really good, err on the side of using recordings of real humans rather than AI.

4. Establish Clear Metrics, Roles, and Expected Outcomes

One of the primary use cases of an IVR is to improve first contact resolution (FCR) rates for callers. As a vital customer experience metric, FCR allows contact centers to measure how often agents resolve customer issues the first time a customer calls or interacts.

Naturally, tracking your FCR is essential because customers want to avoid the hassle of repeatedly contacting the call center to resolve an issue—but pulling this off requires a clearly defined phone tree with distinct hierarchies that can intelligently and expeditiously match customers with live agents and solutions. 

Keep in mind that a well-functioning IVR will also collect necessary information before transferring calls. As a result, the agent who receives the call will always be equipped with relevant details to start resolving the problem immediately. This reduces total resolution time and results in fewer call transfers overall.

Additionally, establishing clear hierarchies and roles further illuminates your ability to understand your callers’ needs. If you have well-defined roles, for example, then your IVR can prioritize resolving the issues of big-ticket customers first. Of course, apart from customer value, a well-mapped phone tree can also prioritize calls based on criteria like issue complexity and level of urgency. 

5. Create Multiple Contact Methods

Accessibility should be a key design feature of a well-oiled phone tree. As such, you should aim to provide an IVR setup that has omnichannel capabilities. This flexibility will allow your customers to reach you via several means, covering more of your audience’s preferred communication methods. 

It’s important to take this flexibility seriously for an improved customer experience—even if it means introducing redundancy in your system operations. Apart from mobile phones, make your company available via landlines, chat, SMS messaging, video conferencing, email, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services

Providing alternative channels of communication for customers tends to reduce cart abandonment rates and the number of active waiting calls—since customers have several other points of contact that don’t necessitate waiting on hold before getting a time-sensitive answer.

Lastly, creating multiple contact methods can also reduce first response times (FRTs) since multiple avenues pave the way to reach a qualified agent faster. In other words, all roads lead to Rome, baby!

6. Build Interfaces For Smart Integrations

Platforms built for IVR contact centers should extend their capabilities for greater productivity.  

For instance, your IVR system should be capable of integrating with customer relationship management (CRM) tools that your company probably already uses. This can greatly improve your agents’ preparedness and productivity, as they can tailor their calls with targeted, real-time information.

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