If you’ve ever called the customer support line for a major airline or pharmacy chain and a voice prompts you to explain why you’re calling, then you’ve interacted with Interactive Voice Response or IVR technology.
It’s a pre-screening process for customer service phone calls. IVR features an automated phone system that lets callers receive information through a collection of pre-recorded messages, instead of speaking with your typical call center agents.
First, customers utilize menu options by dialing a Dual-Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF tone in short) or touch-tone keypad selection or speech recognition. Then, depending on your response to the prompts, an IVR system might forward your call to a specific department that is best equipped to handle it, or it might attempt to resolve your issue in advance.
When you call a pharmacy about your prescription, for instance, IVR can tell you upfront when it’ll be ready, so you don’t need to tolerate a long wait time until a live agent picks up the call.
IVR actually dates all the way back to the 1970s, but it’s become far more sophisticated and efficient for customers and eCommerce brands alike.
Here’s how IVR works to improve your business processes and the customer experience.
Every customer call to your support line is expensive. A typical customer service call, especially through a traditional contact center, usually costs your company $3 to $5. While sometimes you need to have that personalized conversation with your callers, the truth is customers can resolve many of their issues via self-service.
They might only be calling because they haven’t found the tools to do it. While a customer is waiting on the phone, Chatdesk can send them a text and attempt to resolve their inquiry through text, Messenger, and more.
A lot of customer inquiries can be addressed this way, especially when they relate to shipping and returns. This approach can deflect up to 10% of calls and reduce your costs up to 80%.
The medical scrubs brand Jaanuu, for instance, uses Chatdesk to refer customers who have questions about the return process back to its return partner, Happy Returns. Through Happy Returns, customers can set up their returns themselves, without needing to talk to a customer service agent.
Get a personalized demo of how call deflection works.
With Aircall, one of many companies offering IVR for eCommerce brands, your IVR system will automatically link a customer’s phone number to their most recent purchase. Most modern IVR systems will also integrate with eCommerce platforms like Shopify.
This allows your agents to see helpful customer and order information like: the status of the order, a customer’s previous interactions with your customer service teams, and so on, helping to speed up the issue resolution process.
No one likes to endure indefinite hold times on the phone and end up listening to music. If your company’s customer support agents are backlogged, the IVR prompt at the beginning of the call can immediately estimate how long it’ll take before a representative will be available, and it can offer to text customers updates as that changes.
IVR can also instruct your representatives to call back your customer once they’re ready, so the customer can go about their day and not have to stay tethered to the phone.
Many inquiries can be resolved without your customer service team. For example, customers commonly check in on their order status if their item is late. Instead of your customers waiting for a response, your IVR system can give them an automatic update on the status of their order.
Routing calls can’t resolve everyone’s issues, but it will help serve at least a few people quickly, which will in turn cut down the stress on your customer service teams.
Side note: As a last resort, when calls can’t seem to get through, forwarding callers to voicemail can help.
If you’re a small business or a mid-sized brand, you can’t always afford to answer customer inquiries around the clock. However, you also don’t want to leave your customers hanging if an issue crops up at the end of the business day.
A good IVR system can receive customer phone calls, advise general business information like business hours, and then follow-up with a text asking when a good time to call might be. Your customer support agents can reach back out automatically the next day, without the customer needing to call back again.
Here are some best practices to help you build an interactive voice response system for your business.
In a 2019 survey with the market insights group Clutch, customers have reported the most common frustration with IVR is hearing menu options that aren’t relevant to them (69%). When you build your phone menu, IVR experts recommend limiting the number of options that you allow, usually to as few as 3 options.
And make sure one of those options lets a customer speak directly to a human. 43% of people reported that “lack of human interaction” was one of their top three frustrations with phone menus. Your customers can talk to a human agent on the phone, or they can correspond with them in newer channels, like Facebook Messenger or Instagram DM.
Whether it’s chat, phone, email, or social, stay consistent and true to your brand’s tone of voice. For example, when you call the pet-focused subscription box brand BARK, they text you with an on-brand message. “Howlutations!” it says. “If you’d prefer to give us a bark via Facebook Messenger, pawlease click the link below.”
(via Chatdesk/BARK case study)
Also be thoughtful in crafting your welcome message and selecting waiting music so the entire experience feels on-brand.
In some use cases, other businesses even utilize text-to-speech (TTS) and IVR software to automate its outgoing messages. They even incorporate other digital solutions like:
Doing so can enhance call flows, reduce hold times, and improve customer satisfaction.
40% of customers said they’d prefer to interact with brands through an option other than phone. Often, your customer is only choosing to place a phone call because it’s the main available touchpoint they can find. That’s a loss for the brand, given how expensive a phone call can be, and it’s also frustrating to the customer who would rather resolve their issue with a quick message.
Simple customer queries — like checking account balances — can be answered much more quickly and cheaply in a live chat on your website or in the comments section or DMs on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
To maximize your customer service strategy, you want to offer customer support across many different platforms. That way, when customers do place a phone call, it’ll be worth everyone’s time.
Phone calls are expensive for eCommerce brands and IVR systems can help you save a lot of money. But smart eCommerce brands should only use IVR in combination with other customer service tools.
If there’s a backlog of calls, reach out to customers by text to see if you can resolve their question more swiftly in a chat, thereby reducing and avoiding high call volumes. You should also have in place a suite of customer service options across all platforms, including social media, so that a phone call will be a last resort for your shoppers.