Allison Smith

Is It Hot in Here, Or Is It Just IVR Hell?

I recently stumbled upon a great article by Natalie Dyke on the Destination CRM Web site. The article, titled “IVR Hell,” definitely encapsulates everything amiss with mis-designed, mis-written, and just generally frustrating phone trees. Dyke really brings a lot of great points home, and she’s coming strictly from a customer’s perspective. IVR is the customer’s first point of contact; it’s crucial to set the tone at that all-important “meeting” point.

Dyke reiterates my previous rant of keeping menus as short as possible. The next time you’re listening to menu options, try to see if you can recall them after you hang up. Chances are you’ll be able to recall only the last thing you heard. Call it a commentary on people’s attention spans or a symptom of the pace at which we live, but we have a shut-off valve after a surprisingly short stream of information coming at us.

I recently recorded a joke prompt for a prominent client. It said, You’ve pressed zero, which is clearly not a option you were given. As punishment, you will be forced to listen to the entire menu options again. As fun (and refreshing) as it was to slip that whimsical prompt into an otherwise serious system, Dyke urges IVR writers to give people an opt-out option when they feel fairly confident their questions don’t really fit into the presented options. Think of the options menu as a “screen,” much like the FAQ section on a Web site. The zero option for a live attendant should be offered if no other department seems applicable. Some callers will abuse this, but most won’t.

The “IVR Hell” article mentions the hamster-wheel effect of collecting caller’s account numbers while they’re waiting to be “sorted” to a department. Very seldom have I ever seen that information speeding up the process or giving the agent heads-up info about you, the caller. It’s a waste of time, especially when the information is simply asked for again when the agent does come on the line.

All people saddled with the responsibility of writing the scripts for their company’s auto-attendants (or those whose j0b it is to design them for other firms) don’t care how much time you have to spend calling them, whether they are the ¬†cable company, the utility conglomerate, or the behemoth warehouse store. You know what frustrates you. You know what doesn’t work. And you likely have an idea of how to streamline it to make the whole experience smoother for both caller and company.


Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, having voiced platforms for Sprint, Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Bell Canada, Vonage, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom, and the Asterisk Open-Source PBX. Her Web site is