The Do’s and Dont’s of IVR Apps

August 4, 2008 by Tom Costelloe

It is often not until something is pointed out to me that I notice it in abundance. Take, for example, a particular “tag” or signature used by graffiti artists. My wife pointed out the side of a mailbox as we were going for a walk the other night. She commented on how she’d noticed it around the neighborhood. Personally I had seen that many signs, mailboxes, and buildings had been tagged. However, I hadn’t noticed any particular tag over the other. Now I noticed this tag, pointed out to me by my wife, virtually everywhere even if I am not looking for it.

Every day I deal with IVR applications, menus and voice prompts; whether for work trying to contact a customer, or in my own life trying to order food. It wasn’t until a conversation I had early last week when uncovering some of the mistakes people make, that I really started paying attention to what I was and was not hearing. There are many simple mistakes which people regularly make when trying to record their own prompts. A couple examples of what I came across include:

  • Quality: In many cases this is a client’s first impression of your company and its products and services. What are they hearing? What is their reaction? Take a minute to call into your own business and ask yourself, “Is what I want my customers to hear?”
  • Consistency: Is the same voice throughout the prompt? Is a similar tone of voice maintained? Does the voice quality switch between supplied prompts and recorded prompts? For example, you may have recorded an upbeat greeting–do you have or should you have the same tone for every prompt?
  • Order: Decide the order of information provided; will the name be given first, or the phone extension? I suggest that you let people know who it is before you say how to get to them. Something like: “For our customer service department, please press 1”.
  • Length: Don’t try to get out as much information as you can in the first 15 seconds. Only provide what you need to; there is a good chance that the important information might not be retained if the message contains too much information.
  • On Hold: If a client is willing to wait to talk to a live person, it is a good idea to inform them of some of the services your organization offers or recent achievements while they listen to music. If a client must be placed on hold, it is better to have them listen to something rather that nothing at all.

This may seem straight forward and simple, but if you pay careful attention, the next time you make a phone call and are placed on hold, you may be surprised by what you hear. All is not lost; there are plenty of options out there.

In regards to your business phone system one option is to take the time to individually record and replace every prompt with custom prompts. While it may be a bit time consuming, the end-product will be worthwhile. The other option is to purchase pre-recorded prompts combined with a smaller number of custom prompts. There are packages offering replacements for all standard prompts used within many different phone systems. Additionally custom prompts may be created for your greeting, menus and messages on hold. Custom prompts are recorded by the same person to complete the package. You’ve taken the time to design and layout out an IVR that covers every possible option a customer could want. Comparing the voice prompts within your phone system to a “tag” as I mentioned previously: Why go out with a can of spray paint for a few key words when you can have someone paint you a mural?


  • Also a commen error is what shout happen if the user do not dial a number, shout we repeat it indefenetly, provide personal assistance or just hangup.
    but more importen far to many companyes create the IVR to represent the internal struktur of the company and not how the customers see the company.

  • Garrett Smith

    @Mark great point. I would think that in most cases you would want to repeat it two or three times then proceed to forward them to an operator for further assistance.

  • Dana Harding

    It is extremely annoying to be forced to wait for audio to be played before one can enter an extension. (using Playback() instead of Background() in Asterisk)

    Also consider time-sensitive extensions/audio playback and minimize the menu depth of an IVR. I have had the experience of deciphering multiple menus – then receiving a “Sorry this department is closed, please phone back during [insert office hours]” with no option to leave a message.

  • Charlie Gill

    A common problem I often hear is “our office hours are 8 am to 5 pm monday through friday” without giving the timezone. If I’m calling an 800 number I have no idea where the office is located. Even with a real area code it is time consuming to google the area code just to see when I can call back.

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