Do Your Customers Hate Your IVR?

Chris Lehrman
Chris Lehrman, Interactive Intelligence

I have experienced many different IVR structures as a contact center consultant. And like everyone, I also have had many experiences dealing with IVRs as a customer.

IVRs come in all shapes and sizes. Some have no menu structure at all—incoming calls are simply routed directly to an agent within a particular queue. There may be some “behind-thescenes” integration with a CRM that helps direct calls to the agent who should be able to most effectively deal with the call, based on information tied to the caller’s account. In this case, an IVR is accomplishing the best of both worlds—limiting or eliminating a menu structure so the caller doesn’t have to spend a lot of time navigating, while still garnering important information about a caller so as to most efficiently deliver a call to an agent who can help. This is a case of an IVR that appears simple from a caller’s standpoint, but is actually fairly advanced.

At the other end of the spectrum, an IVR with little to no menu structure may simply route all calls to a pool of agents who are all generally capable of (or “skilled” at) handling a variety of call types, for example, based on the 800-number that the caller dialed. In these cases, however, sometimes a call may need to be transferred to another department. Perhaps the caller dialed the incorrect 800-number for his particular issue because he saw a few different numbers listed on the company’s website and misinterpreted which one to dial. In this situation, the customer experience has taken a hit due to the caller not being connected to the appropriate agent initially. How much of a negative experience this is for the caller can depend on a variety of factors: the caller’s generation (age group), the specific issue that prompted the call, past experiences the caller has had with the organization, or how well his issue was dealt with once he reached an appropriate agent, etc.

Some IVRs are very complex and “bulky,” with many levels of menus that prompt callers to select multiple options before being connected to an agent. It’s one thing to have a complex IVR that uses the information entered by the caller to connect them to the most appropriate agent who can help. It’s an entirely different situation to have a complex menu structure that doesn’t really do anything in terms of routing the call more effectively, but just uses the options selected by the caller to identify call types for reporting purposes.

The first scenario may create some initial frustration on the caller’s side as they navigate the menu structure, but if they are delivered to an agent who solves the issue to their satisfaction, it’s generally a positive experience for the caller. The second scenario can hurt the customer experience at numerous points, since the options they select don’t factor into the call routing at all.

In a perfect world, callers would carefully listen to the various menus and options presented to them, and select the appropriate option(s). Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen according to plan. In fact, a recent consumer survey conducted by Nuance found that 40% of respondents will only listen to the first list of choices in an IVR. If they don’t recognize a choice that pertains to the reason for their call, they will immediately attempt to transfer to an agent. This is sometimes presented as an option in the IVR (e.g., “To speak with an agent, press 0.”), but even if it’s not, callers may attempt to press “0” or speak “agent,” or some other behavior that has worked for them with other IVRs. This means that a large number of callers aren’t patient enough to navigate through multiple menus before speaking with an agent, which destroys any potential benefit the caller and/or business will receive through the IVR.

Think about the IVR that your callers come in contact with every day. Is it simple or is it more complex? If it’s more complex, how are you using the options selected by your callers? Are you using this information to route their call to an agent that can help them, as efficiently as possible? In general, think about the “good” and the “bad” about your IVR. What are your callers saying? Do you get a lot of complaints about your IVR? Now that you’re thinking about your own IVR, let’s take a look at some of the biggest reasons why callers get irritated with IVRs and how you can institute some easy fixes to improve the customer experience.

What Callers Hate Most About IVRs (and Some Easy Fixes)

According to the “Spoken 2015 Call Center Report” by Spoken Communications, the top two reasons for a positive contact center experience related to IVRs were: (1) speed to agent, and (2) not having to repeat information already given in the IVR to agents. Again, think about how your current IVR is designed and what, if any, comments you have heard from callers regarding what they like or don’t like about it. Now, let’s take a closer look at the biggest drivers for a positive IVR customer experience listed above as well as some relatively simple things you can do with your own IVR to improve your callers’ experience.


The top reason customers cited when they had a positive customer experience was how quickly they were able to reach an agent. As it relates to the IVR, this essentially equates to how simple or complex your IVR’s menu structure is and also how easy it is to navigate. How long does it typically take your callers to reach an agent? If this is a common complaint from callers or you feel like it can be improved upon, the following are a couple of ways to address it.

  • Examine your menu structure. How many layers of menus does a typical caller have to navigate before reaching an agent? And within those menus, how many options does the caller have to choose from? In general, you don’t want more than three menus or “layers” before a caller reaches an agent. Further, it is generally not recommended to have more than four options within each menu for callers to select from. Are the menus and the various options contained within integral to how the call is routed to an agent? Or are some options simply used for informational purposes (identifying the type of call, etc.)? Where possible, eliminate the menus/options that don’t play a direct role into determining what agent group receives the call. Next, consider using wrap-up codes to capture the reason for the call as opposed to gathering this info from the IVR.
  • If you need multiple menus within your IVR for call routing purposes, be sure to provide an option for a caller to opt out of the IVR and connect with an agent. This can be done by providing an option for the caller to select (e.g., press zero to reach an agent) or, if your IVR is speech-enabled, a caller would be connected after speaking the word “agent.”


The second biggest reason customers mentioned for having a positive customer experience was not having to repeat information they already provided in the IVR to an agent. Is your IVR integrated with a CRM? Or do you ask callers to provide any information related to their account or issue within the IVR before speaking to an agent? Consider the following:

  • If you have a CRM, the ability to garner relevant account data regarding the caller can be a very powerful tool. For example, if the caller has an open ticket or issue, the CRM can work in conjunction with your contact center management software to recognize this and appropriately deliver their call to an agent who can help. Another option is to adjust the priority level of a call based on how valuable the caller is or the importance of the issue. A CRM integration isn’t necessarily a “simple” fix, but if one already exists, it’s important to understand what can be done and ensure that things are working the way they should be.
  • If your IVR asks callers to provide some information regarding their account or the reason for their call (either by pressing options or through speech recognition), make sure that this information is relevant to how the call is routed. For example, if a caller selects a “billing” option, then that call should go to an agent who can handle a billing-related call. Or if a caller is asked to provide some account information (verify their account number or some other piece of information), that data should be transferred, or visible to the agent. If it’s not, then it serves no purpose as the agent is going to have to ask the caller for the information anyway.

Some of these things may seem like common sense. And they should be. But these are things I come across on a very regular basis. One of the main reasons why these mistakes are so common is because IVRs are often designed and then “left alone.” Be sure to review your IVR on a regular basis. Have others in the organization provide feedback, as well.

Keep in mind that, as business needs change, the menu structure can quickly become outdated. By following the steps above, you can experience significant improvement in your callers’ customer experience before they reach an agent, which should lead to a much more pleasant experience for all parties involved!

CHRIS LEHRMAN is a Contact Center Consultant for Interactive Intelligence.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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