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Bad voice acting, confusing jargon: IVR design mistakes to avoid

Bad voice acting, confusing jargon: IVR design mistakes to avoid

Here are four common CX and usability mistakes we find when we review companies’ IVR applications.

No business sets out to deliver a bad customer experience. But in a great many cases, that’s what they end up doing.

And nowhere more so than in their interactive voice response (IVR) – or automated phone – channel.

If you’ve ever worked with an IVR application, you’ll know the odds are stacked against you when it comes to creating a wonderful caller experience. You have to battle with stakeholders who want to design the IVR around business objectives rather than callers’ needs. You’re constrained by design tools that force callers into an artificial call flow. And when you need to make urgent updates, it’s not always possible to get old of the same voice actor – or indeed any voice actor.

All of this shows.

VoxGen are often asked to conduct reviews of companies’ IVR applications (in fact, it’s something we offer as a free service).

And time and again, the kind of problems outlined above combine to create a substandard experience that frustrates as many callers as it helps.

Four common IVR CX and usability mistakes

We’ve conducted so many IVR reviews that we’ve been able to create a list of the top four CX and usability mistakes we see companies making. Browse the list below, then check your own IVR to make sure you’re not committing any of these cardinal sins.

1: The upfront information isn’t relevant

So many IVRs are front-loaded with general information – like marketing offers – that all callers are expected to listen to before they hear something that’s relevant to their reason for calling. Unlike graphic interfaces where users can divert their gaze to what’s relevant, in audio they have to wait until they hear what they’re looking for. Often, the caller will give up before that happens, and try to find another way to get to an agent.

2: The IVR reflects the company’s view of the world, not the caller’s.

We often see menus and dialog steps that don’t fit with the way customers think about tasks, or the words they’d use to describe those tasks. For example, if a customer wants to change their address, they’d expect to hear an option “change your address”, rather than something like “request an AB506 form”. That might be terminology an internal employee understands, but not the end-customer.

3: It doesn’t feel like a real conversation

Even though callers know the IVR isn’t a real person, they still want to feel they’re having a valuable exchange with an entity that has their needs and interests at heart. But too often, rather than having something that feels like a productive conversation geared to their needs, they hear the same messaging replayed over and over, or generic menus that keep reappearing irrespective of the task they’ve has just completed.

4: The persona is inconsistent with the brand

Callers have certain expectations of a brand based on their experience of things like its advertising, marketing, website and employees they’ve come across. Yet very often, the IVR experience is inconsistent with the personality they’ve come to associate with the brand – and that not only disorients the caller, but also undermines the brand’s authenticity. Here are a few ways we find IVRs going wrong in terms of persona and brand image:

  • The persona is overly formal: The language sounds more like something you’d read in a letter than something a person would say to you. A recent example we saw was “Please listen carefully and respond clearly when prompted’. The overall impression is of a company that’s distant, bossy, and can’t connect with the customer ‘on their level’.
  • The tone is inappropriate: Often, voice actors are simply reading from a script with no guidance as to the role of the particular message within the overall conversation, or the context of the person who’s calling. (And that’s when the company has engaged voice actors: quite often, colleagues are roped in to read voice prompts).
    That means the voice can either be monotonous, or read in a tone that’s inappropriate to the caller’s situation. The classic example is “Your call is important to us” voiced in a breezy tone, when the infuriated caller has already been on hold for 25 minutes.
  • The information sounds stilted: It’s hard to piece recorded samples together in a way that makes the finished result sound like flowing, natural speech – and a lot of companies think this level of detail doesn’t matter. But it does: poorly stitched-together (UX designers use the word “concatenated”) voice samples make the IVR sound unnatural and robotic, and that makes callers feel ill at ease. It also reminds them that the company is using a machine to talk to them, probably in order to save money, which makes them feel less valued.

(For more on the importance of persona, read our blog: Too many voices: how an inconsistent IVR persona can damage your brand)

Time to check your own IVR?

There are many more commonly-occurring IVR design flaws I could mention, but these are the ones we encounter most often. It’s worth spending some time understanding where your own IVR experience could be tightened up, as it may not take a lot of time and budget, and you could transform your callers’ experience as a result.



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