The ultimate guide to Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

Nina Kozłowska
10 min readApr 27, 2020

Studies show that 48 % of customers want to use phone conversation to solve their issue. There’s nothing quite like a conversation with a friendly and knowledgeable agent when contacting a company.

Nonetheless, it also matters how this conversation gets started: What was the waiting time? Was it possible to specify the reason behind the call in advance? Was it easy to reach the right agent in the first place?

It might not seem like it at first, but this matters especially when your company is dealing with a high number of inbound calls. In such circumstances, the whole call flow is important for your customers — and that’s precisely what Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is a part of.

What is Interactive Voice Response (IVR) all about?

When calling a company, have you ever heard a recorded phrase first before you got to talk to a human being? Here’s an example to refresh your memory:

“To reach customer support, press one. To connect with the sales team, press two.”

That’s what IVR is, at a glance. IVR systems have become so popular that you’ve probably found yourself interacting with them over the phone without realising what they are.

In a nutshell, Interactive Voice Response it’s simply a technology that helps to interact with callers first, before (or sometimes instead) redirecting them to the right person that can assist them best. The reason behind is to gather the basic information about the purpose of the call and route it to the most suitable agent at the time.

The messages the callers hear are pre-recorded or generated, prompting them to communicate by using either the touch-tone keypad selection or speak up so that voice recognition can figure out who they should be connected with.

There are at least a few things that have to be in place in order for the caller to be presented with the choices and redirected to a certain operator, though.

How to create a great IVR, then? Here are 5 practical steps to get you started.

How does the IVR system work, exactly?

Essentially, IVR systems are an example of computer-telephone integration (CTI). A simple IVR system only needs a computer connected to a phone line through special hardware (called a telephony board or telephony card) and a dedicated IVR software. In fact, the IVR software is what lets you pre-record greetings and menu options that a caller can select with their phone keypad.

Thanks to the Dual-Tone Multi-Frequency signalling (DTMF) which occurs when callers use the keypad, the computer is able to understand and process their choice.

Apart from this “touch-tone” technology, though, more advanced IVR systems also leverage speech-recognition, allowing the caller to use simple voice commands instead of manually “pressing buttons” on the keypad. For example, such an IVR menu may say: For support, press one or say ‘support’. Some IVR systems are even able to recognise a callers’ tone and accompanying emotions.

No matter the exact capabilities of IVR you’re after, you’ll need proper phone software to actually implement it. Remember that IVR doesn’t operate separately from a phone system — which is why you might want to choose a suitable call center software with an IVR feature. Luckily, there is plenty of phone system & IVR service providers to choose from.

To give you an example: You can easily work with CloudTalk and its Call Flow Designer to create both simple and more complex IVR scenarios, collect relevant data, and assess the performance of both your call flow and your operators.

IVR system — Use cases

IVR systems can work wonders for both large call centers and small businesses. In fact, no matter the profile and size of your business, IVR will definitely help you accommodate an expanding customer base and a high call volume — in a variety of scenarios. Here’s why.

- IVR for call centers.

Because of IVR services, the call center can handle all incoming calls more effectively. In fact, with a complex IVR menu, many call centers notice the increased first contact resolution of customer issues and inquiries, since many cases can be tackled even without speaking to an operator. Which brings us to another use case of IVR…

- IVR for self-service.

IVR can help customers answer common questions they might have by themselves. In many cases, clear and informative messages, detailed tutorials and step by step instructions are enough for the callers to be satisfied with the assistance. For those who rather talk to a live operator, they can still choose such an option — or ask for a callback instead.

- IVR for extended business hours.

Since the IVR system enables self-service, it can also handle the calls outside of business hours. There’s no harm in trying to reach out and seek information at any time of the day, especially since there’s an IVR to help out anyway.

- IVR for intelligent call routing.

The IVR system can pre-qualify callers and easily transfer them to the operator (or at least the department) that is able to assist them best. This, in turn, affects the holding time and customer satisfaction in the long run.

- IVR for more personalised service.

As already mentioned, IVR systems are perfectly capable of pre-qualifying callers as they can gather important information about them and the purpose of their call. In fact, a well-designed IVR can work similarly to a well-trained agent, who’s ready to assist the caller properly and address their specific need. Yet again: It can increase customer satisfaction along the way.

- IVR for sales.

When calling your sales team, potential customers can easily learn about special offers or upcoming deals thanks to IVR. The system can also be used to set up an order form that callers can fill out using their telephone keypad.

- IVR for getting simple, real-time information.

Whenever there’s a database (with movie times, opening hours, or account balances, for example) — IVR systems can be used for retrieving simple details from it. This way, the callers can get the information they need fast, without having a lengthy conversation with a live operator.

- IVR for password resets.

The IVR system can also be used for caller authentication and password resets (or any other changes in their account, for that matter).

- IVR for scheduling appointments (and reminding of them).

IVR can not only be used to schedule and change appointments easily but also remind customers about them.

- IVR for surveys.

With automated IVR surveys, you can quickly collect customer data and feedback through simple questionnaires — i.e. how satisfied they are with the service, and what can be done to improve it.

As can be seen, IVR systems are used in different situations. Therefore, whenever you want to personalise the caller experience, collect relevant data, and maximise the productivity of your operators — you should definitely give it a try. Especially since these are only a few benefits you can get out of an IVR service.

The benefits of Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

There are many reasons why companies decide to leverage Interactive Voice Response — and why you might want to consider it as well:

#1 Better, more efficient customer service

With IVR systems, callers can feel like they’ve been faster attended to. Then, since they are requested to specify the purpose of the call, they can also be assisted by the right people in your team, without connecting them with multiple people manually before someone can actually help them.

#2 Automatic “pre-qualification” and filtering

IVR can help you filter your callers and help your agents to prepare for the call, knowing what type of issue they might be tackling before they actually answer it. This can help you keep both your agents and the callers satisfied in the long run.

#3 Shorter holding times (and less frustration)

By answering the call almost immediately, even with a pre-recorded message, you’re actually reducing the wait time. Then, the proper call distribution can truly help you save time for both the caller and your team.

#4 Unlimited access to your contact center

If you have a complex, informative IVR in place — your callers can make good use of it at any time of their convenience and obtain the information they need even after standard business hours. Basically, the system is always at their disposal, even if the agents are not there to pick up the phone.

#5 Higher level of personalisation

IVR systems make it possible to offer more personalised customer experience and thus, create better relationships with all the callers. It doesn’t only come down to choosing the specific department or the language that suits the caller best — a powerful IVR system can be modified and programmed with personalised greetings for the known callers (thanks to the caller ID).

#6 Increased credibility

A consistent, welcoming message heard upon calling your company can easily boost its credibility. It doesn’t only seem professional but also creates the impression that you’re used to a high volume of calls and you’re equipped with proper tools to handle them.

#7 Improved efficiency

With an IVR, there’s no need to endlessly route calls manually before the right person answers and is able to assist the caller — it all happens automatically. Not to mention that your agents can prioritise the calls, prepare for them, and give them their full attention. This increases the efficiency and helps the operators be better (and less stressed) at their job.

#8 Fewer errors

Traditional receptionists and manual call routing are definitely more prone to errors than IVR systems — especially when a high volume of calls is involved. This, in turn, can cause frustration, which can easily be avoided when the whole process happens automatically.

#9 Lower customer service costs

With self-service enabled by IVR, you can keep your customers satisfied and informed without “bothering” your agents. This way, many customer queries can be resolved without the actual support team, helping you to lower the labour costs. Not to mention that with IVR, you’re also making better use of your resources in the long run.

With so many benefits, it’s hardly surprising that many companies choose to implement Interactive Voice Response. Here’s the thing, though: a well-thought-out IVR can benefit your customers, but a poorly-constructed one can only cause frustration.

Common mistakes with IVR systems

With Interactive Voice Response, possibilities are pretty much endless. Interestingly, however, there are at least a few mistakes that companies make with their IVR systems. Make sure you’re not one of them!

1. Overcomplicated call flow.

Let’s face it: 63% of customer agreed that IVR ruins overall customer experience because they are forced to listen to irrelevant options. Your customers are not really calling to interact with your IVR endlessly. Don’t make the menu overcomplicated, with plenty of choices and confusing categories. All options should be clear, short and straightforward so that the caller can easily and quickly make the best choice for them.

2. Lack of agents.

Even the best-constructed IVR menus have to offer the possibility to speak to a live operator at some point. Don’t “hide” this option away from the callers- some of your customers might have very specific requests and they might want to talk to your agents right away.

3. Long hold times.

It can be frustrating for the callers to interact with a menu for a while, only to be asked to wait even more. If you’re really struggling with the number of calls at a given time — give your customers a chance to ask for a callback. Many of them will prefer that over waiting for too long.

4. Too much information.

Even though your callers need some details from you — start introducing them gradually. Wait for a caller to ask for more information, instead of offering it all upfront and creating confusion in the process.

5. Low-quality of voice prompts.

In some cases, pre-recorded or generated messages are just hard to understand. It’s either because the person who recorded those wasn’t a professional, or the cheap text to speech software was used. In both cases, the quality of such voice prompts will be low and frankly, annoying.

Implement an IVR system the right way

Back in the day, Interactive Voice Response was just a simple version of the popular self-service technology. These days are over, though.

As the needs and expectations of customers change, IVR became a powerful way to handle their phone requests — even high volumes of them.

In fact, nowadays it can be used in different situations and for a variety of purposes. That’s precisely why IVR became an integral part of today’s phone systems, bringing multiple benefits to companies, their agents, and callers.

CloudTalk’s IVR feature is a perfect example: it automates workflows and improves the quality of services provided by your contact centre. And the best part? Thanks to its Call Flow Designer, you can create customised IVR menus in no time, and try it for free once you’re at it. See it for yourself.

Originally published at on April 27, 2020.