Is Your IVR Harming Your EX?


Why does your contact center use an interactive voice response (IVR) system? For most call centers nowadays, the technology is a given, but it’s worth stepping back to ask why.

You may be able to name many reasons your call center leans on IVR — handling higher call volumes, reducing agent labor, and faster call resolution are just a few common benefits. Fundamentally, though, it comes down to improving the customer experience (CX) and boosting your bottom line. If it doesn’t do these two things, IVR doesn’t make sense for your business. 

As important as both outcomes are, it’s easy to lose sight of another factor that can significantly impact each: the employee experience (EX). When the technology you implement makes work worse for your employees, it will inevitably make it harder for you to meet your goals for CX and the bottom line.

You might assume that your IVR is improving the everyday experience for your employees, but this isn’t a guaranteed outcome. Ensuring a good EX — and a good CX, for that matter — requires effective planning and execution for your IVR. Let’s explore why EX matters for your call center, how your IVR can hurt it, and what you can do about it.

The Connection Between EX, CX, and Your Bottom Line

The connection between EX and CX, as well as how it ultimately relates to business results, is well documented. This is true across a variety of business types and industries. One Harvard Business Review study showed a definitive connection between EX and retail revenue, for instance, noting a 50% revenue increase when customers dealt with more engaged, equipped, and experienced employees. Another study, this one by IDC, showed that 62% of organizations found a strong correlation between EX, CX, and revenues.

These results play out not only in businesses in general but specifically in contact centers. Research by McKinsey and Company has demonstrated strong connections between EX and employee retention, which has a significant impact on the bottom line in call centers. It also found that call center employees who were engaged and happy in their work were 3.3 times more likely to feel “extremely empowered” to resolve customer issues on their own.

Let’s make this more concrete…. consider how EX can directly affect the customer experience and results in your contact center. Metrics like contacts per agent and average handle time are standard ways to measure how productive your agents are and how efficient your contact center is overall. As each of these increases, EX and CX decline. And those declines lead to further increases in the number and length of calls for agents. The result is obvious: contact center costs increase and you risk losing employees and customers.

That’s clearly not the result you want. The question is, what does your IVR have to do with it?

How IVR Problems Lead to Poor EX

When it comes to understanding the connections between your IVR and poor employee and customer experiences, it’s important to realize that these lines don’t flow in just one direction. IVR problems can lead to bad CX, which can lead to bad EX. But it can flow the other way, too — leading from poor IVR to subpar EX to subpar CX. Ultimately, they’re all connected.

Knowing this, it’s probably helpful to start by considering overall customer sentiment toward IVR systems. And, despite much progress, there’s a long way to go. Recent research from Vonage showed that a majority of customers (61%) still don’t like interacting with IVRs. Among their reasons:

  • They don’t like listening to irrelevant options (63%).
  • It stops them from talking to a human agent (54%).
  • They frequently have to repeat themselves (45%).


These reasons are summed up succinctly in another study by Forrester, which found that over 65% of customers define a bad customer experience as the feeling that a business doesn’t respect their time. For many customers, that’s the sense they get from an IVR system. 

These are CX issues, though, and the connection with employee experience may not be obvious on the surface. To make it more clear, let’s consider a couple of common IVR issues and how they might lead to poor EX that further exacerbates CX problems.

Confusing or Poorly Routed Navigation

Many IVR systems have confusing menus that require customers to navigate too many different sub-menus to get where they need to go. Menus may have too many options, or the most common selections might be too difficult to find.

When customers encounter this, they’ll likely do one of two things: hang up or ask to speak with an agent. Neither situation is good for customer service. But the latter is also especially problematic for employee experience. The customer who connects to an agent in this way didn’t get there naturally. They’re already frustrated that they couldn’t solve their issue, and they may be ready to take out that frustration on the agent.

Poor Handoff

The handoff itself can also be a problem. Not all IVR systems are set up to provide a smooth landing for customers when the system hands them off to an agent. Without a robust AI supporting the system, the agent might get very little background information on the customer’s issue before they find themselves on the phone.

When that’s the case, what’s an agent to do? Ask the customer to repeat the information they’ve already provided the IVR. And remember what we said about customers wanting to feel a company respects their time? This communicates the exact opposite, and the agent is likely the one the customer will blame. 

In both of these cases, an agent is left to bear the wrath of angry customers, even though they had nothing to do with the real problem: the IVR. You can probably envision where this will lead. As a higher volume of frustrated callers connects with agents who are already starting on the wrong foot, CX and EX decline while call center costs rise. This is likely the opposite of what you had in mind when you rolled out your IVR.

Your IVR Should Boost EX and Save You Money

An IVR system shouldn’t hurt EX or pinch your bottom line; it should help them both dramatically. One North American financial institution, for instance, boasts an IVR that handles more than 10 million requests every year and saves the company around $100 million annually. That’s 10 million requests that customers can resolve quickly — without getting frustrated and ending up with an agent trying to play damage control.

Not only that, but when agents in that kind of company do connect with customers, they’re better trained to handle their specific requests because the IVR is set up to properly route calls and connect customers with the right person. This makes for a better overall experience — for both caller and agent — and faster resolution of customer issues. It’s worth noting, too, that SQM reports that a 1% improvement in first-call resolution leads to a 5% increase in employee satisfaction.

But, as we said earlier, this isn’t an automatic result of using an IVR. To get the boost you want — for customers, employees, and your bottom line — you have to plan well and invest in the right solutions to support your technology. And two of the most important pieces of this puzzle are effective IVR mapping and continuous testing. These can be achieved through comprehensive IVR testing tools.

When you have a clear picture of the customer journey, you can create a clear and effective map to guide them toward resolution. And when you’re testing your IVR software throughout every stage of development, you can catch and correct issues before they create problems for your customers and staff. This significantly reduces the risk of defects and enables your employees to focus on their main job of making customers happy instead of trying to calm them down.

Cyara’s award-winning CX assurance platform automates the process of discovering your IVR map so you can make improvements. It provides automated testing through its IVR testing solutions so you can ensure quality throughout the development cycle and in the live environment. To learn more about how Cyara can ensure that your IVR delivers on its promise, reach out today.