What is an IVR?


“To speak to an agent, please press one.” Whether as a customer, manager or agent, we’ve all experienced an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. This customer service solution has been around for decades — first as pre-recordings now typically as software — and it can help with everything from reducing agent call loads to cutting costs. 


While IVR software may be relatively commonplace these days, there are still some important steps you can take to ensure your solution works the way it should and helps deliver flawless CX. 

Understanding the Basics

IVR technology can work in several different ways, with the common thread being a prerecorded voice, either a real person’s or a text-to-speech program. Customers most often interact with an IVR system, commonly presented as a menu of options, towards the beginning of a call — with the system collecting important information, segmenting or prioritizing the call and ultimately directing the caller to the right agent if needed. Contact centers rely on IVR software to automate these processes and make the customer journey smoother.

While today’s IVR systems still vary greatly in complexity, innovations like advanced speech recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) software that have inundated so many other sectors are natural fits for the field. As a result, the IVR systems of today look very different from the prerecorded messages of years past. 

With so much innovation happening in this space, it’s important that contact centers looking to add new capabilities to their existing IVR have a plan for integrating features with their existing IVR map (or make changes accordingly) in a way that’s scalable.  

Benefits of IVR

Even in the ever-changing world of contact centers, the priorities remain largely the same — to efficiently solve customer problems and queries in a cost-effective way. An IVR system can help achieve these goals on all fronts. 

The potential benefits of IVR done right include:

  • Call reduction: Far too often, agents get bogged down and burned out with repetitive calls that solve relatively simple tasks. The right IVR tool can increase containment by helping a customer with self-service and negating the need to speak to an agent. 
  • Intuitive call flows: The IVR call flow and automatic routing can help to segment customers by need and ensure that they’re talking to an agent who understands their challenge. 
  • Collect customer information: IVR platforms with speech recognition and recording can be used to take down information and, if necessary, automatically update customer files. This means that an agent either comes into a call with a better understanding of the situation or can avoid the call entirely in favor of self-service.
  • Reduced cost: All of the above ultimately comes down to one thing: long-term savings as a result of automated processes and more limited agent resources. 


Applications for IVR in the Contact Center

Many contact centers use IVRs for call routing to ensure customers are matched with the correct agent or that the agent knows the purpose of the call. But there are so many more processes that an IVR can help automate, especially with all of the new innovations hitting the market. For example, some companies are using AI to pick up trends over a high number of calls and improve their scripting.

In some cases, a company may even employ what’s called outbound IVR, which proactively contacts a customer, rather than the buyer calling in. Some common examples of outbound IVR include calls to collect information before a doctor’s appointment or to pick up a prescription.

In order to get all this right, contact centers need to fully map out each possible IVR scenario and run comprehensive testing (more on that later). Scenario mapping means planning out each possible option a customer has and what happens next depending on what they choose — including the scripts and other knowledge and agent needs to successfully handle the encounter.

For example, if the customer elects to speak to the billing department from an IVR menu, their call can be automatically directed to the correct agent. If the IVR system is being used to collect caller data before they’re connected, this data must be relayed to the agent along with the call, as well as any call scripting that may help the agent provide accurate and helpful service.

IVR Best Practices

Of course, simply investing in a new IVR solution does not mean your contact center will instantly reap the benefits of effective automation. One 2019 study from Vonage found that ineffective IVRs may actually be costing companies money. More than half of the 2,000 consumers surveyed said they’d abandoned a call after reaching an automated menu. Only 13% of respondents said that IVR technology improved their customer experience. 

Does this mean investing in IVR software isn’t worthwhile? Absolutely not! Rather, your IVR system needs to be set up with customer experience (CX) first and foremost in mind. If your organization can do this effectively, the cost savings and agent experience benefits will be sure to follow.

A few common IVR best practices include:

  • Keep the welcome message and options short: IVR mapping is complex. Your customers shouldn’t feel that way, though. Design call flows that address the real needs of your customers and make it clear that each option is the fastest way to speak to a real person. Customers tend to only have the attention span to listen to so many options before they get frustrated and hang up, so keep it short and sweet.
  • Automate what you can: While giving customers the feeling of human connection is essential to good CX, that doesn’t mean you should underestimate the importance of automated processes (after all, it’s probably a big reason you’re looking at an IVR solution).  
  • Make sure there’s a clear option to speak to an agent: Not every customer query is going to fit into a preconceived category, no matter how strong a handle you feel you have on customer needs. Others may simply not be served effectively by a self-service approach. Relatively early in the recording, present customers with the option to speak with an agent. This not only allows you to offer the correct approach for each customer but shows that you aren’t trying to dodge queries or complaints.


Ultimately, customers need to feel like an IVR system is there to help them, not give them the runaround. If callers don’t feel like the IVR system is saving them time compared to getting on the phone with a random agent, they’ll be more likely to get frustrated with their experience — and, by extension, your company.

Testing Your IVR for Maximum Impact

While designing IVRs “the right way” is a good start, it by no means guarantees that you’re delivering the CX you think you are. Rather than blindly assuming you’ve cracked the IVR code, you should run continued diagnostic testing with CX in mind. This should include feedback from real customers, as well as functional testing, regression testing and load testing. Each of these three challenge not only your IVR system but also the way that it interacts with other components of the contact center, like chatbots and other web features.

Ultimately, your test approach should be multi-tiered and simulated with real scenarios and customer account data, or test accounts, to ensure your IVR system addresses the real challenges of the customer. As IVR technology continues to grow in complexity, the need for comprehensive testing will only continue to grow.

For more information about how you can mitigate risk and assure your contact center is delivering flawless CX, go to https://cyara.com/solutions/ivr-testing/