Roll Out the IVR Welcome Mat

You Wouldn’t Make Guests Wait on Your Doorstep – Would You?

Imagine that a friend invited you over to their house. You arrive and ring the bell — but instead of a warm greeting and an invitation to take off your shoes and come inside for a cup of tea and lovely conversation — you were left standing there, listening to a series of strange commands and forced to make a choice before you’ve ever granted access inside.

  • If you would like to come in out of the cold, say “May I come in”.
  • Once you have removed your shoes, say “shoes off”.
  • You’ve indicated you’d like a cup of tea.
    • Say “hot” for hot tea
    • Say “iced” for iced tea.
      • You’ve selected hot.
        • Say “Chai” for Chai
        • Say Grey” for Earl Grey
        • Say “Darjeeling” for Darjeeling…

It would be a little….strange, yes?

Unwelcoming, off-putting, and the opposite of graciousness.

Yet, this is what Interactive Voice Response (IVR) , or phone menu trees as they are commonly called, do every day.

The caller is faced with a gate which ominously crashes down in front of them. Then, in an almost Monty Python-style line of questioning (“What is the airspeed of an un-laden swallow?”), callers are expected to maneuver through untold levels of confusing (and sometimes contradictory) questions; only to be rewarded with personalized service at the end of it all… if they’re lucky.

How did IVRs get so unwelcoming?
In the desire to sort callers, which is the basic function and utility of an IVR, we’ve gotten to thinking of the IVR as almost like a test. It has become a maze which the caller must successfully navigate in order to get to the level of service they need.

Not very welcoming or hospitable!

The IVR is meant to “organize” callers and send them on to your staff who are best equipped to deal with the caller’s specific issue or problem. But it’s so much more than that. A good phone tree should establish what it will feel like to be a customer and will enlist the caller’s help in arriving at a solution together. The experience should leave the caller empowered, instead of frustrating them and making them feel like they’re being shuffled off to Robotland.

IVR is the virtual “front door”; the imaginary “lobby” of your company. Your guests should be treated like guests not intruders, or an interruption to your business.

I have been attempting to get clients to try a more accessible, open, and human way of greeting callers. No barking of instructions, no series of complicated roadblocks, and you’re never again allowed to make the caller feel like they’re standing on the porch; confused, cold, and unsure if they should stay or head back home.

So *greet* that caller enthusiastically; even give them that subtle virtual hug. Make them as comfortable as possible. And leave them with the feeling that the IVR is not a puzzle they have to solve or challenge they have to win; it’s a method for you to make them feel at ease…and served.

Questions to Get You Started
Improvement is never-ending (if you’re doing it right!), so where do you start making improvements to your IVR?

  1. Call your number and act like a customer. Then ask yourself:
    1. Does the greeting sound friendly and professional?
    2. Do you feel like you want to stay on the line?
    3. Is the menu you’re offering short and to the point?
    4. If you have multiple levels are they consistent in tone
    5. Do you have more than 3-4 options to choose from?
  2. Time how long it takes to work your way through your current choices. Can you delete or combine any of the choices?
  3. Who did the recording? If it was someone that works in the office and answers calls, it can create an awkward situation for the caller. When they finally get through to a live voice, and are not sure if it is still a recording!

Sangoma offers the option to purchase professional voice prompts in various packages, you can check out the selection in the Sangoma Portal

To learn more about IVR, you can check out the FreePBX Wiki here: IVR Module

Allison Smith – The Voice of Asterisk and Free PBX — is an internationally-recognized professional voice talent, and one of the top telephone voices working today. Allison has voiced platforms for Vonage, Bell Canada, Sprint, Cingular, Verizon, Qwest . Clients include Marriot Hotels, 3M, Pfizer, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America and EBay among many others.