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How Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Works

Disadvantages of Using IVR Systems
­Some companies still offer live customer service as callers often dislike talking to automated machines.
­Some companies still offer live customer service as callers often dislike talking to automated machines.
© David Silverman/Getty Images

The greatest disadvantage of IVR systems is that many people simply dislike talking to machines. Older adults may have a hard time following telephone menus and lengthy instructions. And younger callers get frustrated with the slowness of multiple phone menus.

The problem with IVR systems is that it's hard to design a good one and easy to design a bad one. Here are some of the most common user complaints with IVR systems:

  • Menus are too long. Experts recommend that no menu should exceed four choices [source: Customer Management Insight]. This makes it easy to remember the options and doesn't waste the caller's time listening to tons of choices.
  • There's too much information. When writing a script for IVR systems, start with the least amount of extraneous information possible; for example, info on how to use the phone menu system, hours of operation, extension numbers, et cetera. Wait for a caller to ask for help or request more information instead of offering it all up front.
  • Voice prompts are hard to understand. This could be caused by two different factors. To save money, the organization didn't hire professional voice talent and may have recorded the audio over the phone instead of in a studio. Or, if the organization opted to use an automated voice, they may have chosen cheap text-to-speech software that's hard to understand.

Sales departments need to be careful when using IVR systems to receive customer calls. If a customer or potential customer has shown enough interest to actually pick up the phone and call to find out more about a product, he doesn't want to feel like he's being ignored. So if a sales staff is going to use IVR as a virtual brochure or an automated order form, it must make it clear that the caller can talk to a live representative at any time.

People are particularly adverse to receiving automated calls as part of telemarketing campaigns or polling. It's bad enough to get a call during dinner from a guy trying to sell you health insurance, but it's even worse when that guy is a computer.

Now let's look at a few IVR companies and the specific products and services that they offer.