Six Musts if You Use Voice Response…

It is a bit of a touchy subject

Should you use a: Voice Response Unit VRU, Interactive Voice Response IVR, one of those damn electronic things (call it what you will) to answer your customer’s calls?

The naysayers will have you believe they damage “moments of truth” and ruin the “customer experience”.

The fans will tell you they are hugely efficient, and will save you millions.

I don’t have an opinion

… about whether you should use them or not… I don’t mind them, but I am the sort of miserable old git who doesn’t like talking to people, so what do I know?

But I do believe that if you choose to use one you should…

Design it well

  1. Menus should be short: we can only remember 4 things (and the last thing should always be “for all other queries”)
  2. Put the most requested option first: normal people only ring parcel delivery firms to find out where their parcel is.  That really ought to be option one. (Not the whiz-bang cross sell option)
  3. Don’t ask the same question twice: if the technology asks for your customer’s details and verifies who they are then please, for the love of your God / Spouse / Child, make sure your agents don’t have to ask again.
  4. Tell your agents what the customer wants: if your customers chose “payment query” then make sure they are directed to the “payment queries” team.  — Try choosing that option on your own system and asking the agent who answers if they know why you called.  You will be appalled by the answer.
  5. Don’t get clever: if you can’t draw out the call routing logic on a sheet of A4 paper by hand and read it at arm’s length you can’t understand what is going on and nobody else will either.  Keep it simple.
  6. Choose your hold music wisely: please do not use Zoom by Fat Larry, unless of course it is part of your call (and customer) mitigation strategy, in which case I thoroughly recommend it.

P.S. If you need further technical clarification on system design please watch the video

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Image by Mark Strozier


  1. LOL, James. Loved that video. It certainly added some level of clarity to your point.

    I think a key takeaway here is: keep it simple. (Even if that means to not use VRU.


  2. Hello James
    Great advice. Loved the video. Whilst it is funny it also speaks a deeper truth to me. It occurs to me that so many decisions (which impact lives) are made by people who are out of touch with the reality of daily life.

    All the best

  3. Hi James,
    Like you, I’m not a fan of cumbersome IVRs and wish more firms would design them outside-in rather than inside-out as they are much of the time.

    I talk heart, however, when I see things like Jacada’s visual IVR product that is applying some really interesting thinking to all elements of this problem.


  4. Well observed, James. I read this straight after a call in which they perpetrated number 3. Very frustrating.

    I particularly like the importance you attach to the ‘all other queries’ option, it’s vital.

    I do wonder whether the oft claimed ‘efficiency’ is in respect of the customer or the company.

  5. James,

    You’re spot on with the need for a well designed, well implemented system.

    I would also add that even the best designed system should only be applied to appropriate call types or caller types and the use of voice recognition reserved for scenarios that demand that level of interaction.

    The lift is a great analogy – why replace a button with voice response. The same in an IVR, if the option(s) is well defined then selecting 1, 2, 3 etc is the least effort for the customer and has 100% accuracy. However, if the options the customer may need to select are more complex then voice recognition can replace multiple layers of menus and provide a better experience.

    Choosing appropriate call types is also key. Balance enquiries, timetables, simple bookings – perfect for IVR. Quicker for the customer and cheaper to deliver. Upselling / cross selling and customer care – beware and use IVR judiciously. A customer’s propensity to buy or be retained will be seriously impacted by navigating a complex IVR.

    So, in summary (IMHO) design the technology well but as importantly design the end to end customer experience you are looking to deliver.

  6. Your humble opinion is welcome Peter. Thanks very much for the comment. It is a little trite of me but I think IVR design is just about using the right tool for the job.

    Though the real question is who decides what the job is, the customer or the corporation.


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