January 05, 2024
Information Insight

Improving Customer Service IVR Systems

If you have ever tried to purchase a new phone plan, pay your electricity bill, or check the status of your furniture order over the phone, you have more than likely interacted with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. An IVR is an automated telephone system that allows customers to interact using speech and keypad input, ultimately allowing customers to complete a function (i.e., pay a bill) or speak to a representative who can assist them with their needs (Genesys). Many service providers utilize this technology to complete a variety of objectives, such as managing call traffic effectively, allowing users to complete critical tasks instead of speaking to an agent, and scheduling future calls when wait times are long. 

While a helpful tool for businesses to manage call volume, IVRs can be (and often are) extremely frustrating to customers. Ever caught yourself yelling “Agent” into the phone after getting stuck in a loop of the same question? You’ve been one of many to experience the pains an IVR system can cause. This frustration has direct impacts on customer satisfaction and retention; a study by Zendesk found that over 50% of those surveyed would switch to a new provider after a single poor interaction. Long wait times, poor recognition, and a lack of personalization can all result in lower customer service ratings for a company, ultimately decreasing your bottom line. The root of these problems, however, is not the IVR system itself, but is a byproduct of poor design and implementation. If done correctly, IVRs can be a valuable and strategic opportunity to provide quick and effective customer service, engaging customers to increase retention. 

You’re probably asking, why should my business invest in IVR? Whether it’s looking at the current IVR market size and estimated growth, the opportunity to improve your customers’ experience interacting with your business, or to reduce cost per calls, it all points that investing in IVR is valuable. Continue reading below to see how Kenway can help you improve your IVR.  

How can you improve your IVR experience and customer satisfaction? 

Tailoring the experience 

Centering the IVR design around customer experience is key. Kenway recommends investing in first understanding why your customers could be calling, with the goal of designing an experience that is customized to their needs. An IVR should combine internal data sources, pulling customer data to recognize, support, and route customers correctly, as well as the intents provided by the caller. For example, the IVR should respond differently for customers who want to pay their bill vs customers who need technical support. Customer account data (i.e., products customer owns, times a caller has engaged through the different channels, billing cycles, location data) can also be leveraged to customize the experience. 

Prompt improvements 

The prompting and verbiage used within the IVR becomes critical to provide the right experience while pairing with the organization’s language and voice of the customer (VOC). Prompts that the IVR reads to the customer should be clear and match average reading level, avoiding acronyms that may cause confusion. Like tailoring the experience, prompts can also be designed based on a customer’s account information. When prompts are confusing, lack clarity, or are not adjusted to the voice of the customer, a caller’s response rate decreases substantially, impacting call deflection and creating a negative impact on the overall experience. When implementing any new verbiage in an IVR menu, ask yourself the following questions: What is the reading level of this sentence? Am I using terms for products our customers are unfamiliar with? Is it clear how I would like the customer to respond (i.e., yes/no, “pay my bill”, entering a number, etc.)? Is there a way I can guide the customer to respond how I want them to? It may seem trivial, but minor wording discrepancies like “Are you calling about ‘x’ or ‘y’” or “which one are you calling about, ‘x’ or ‘y’” can have a significant impact on how a customer replies. The more streamlined IVR prompting is, the more likely you will be to get usable data and information from your callers. 

Customer recognition 

Implementing Natural Language Understanding (NLU) best practices enables callers to speak naturally when interacting with the IVR. NLU enables bots to understand the sentiments expressed in a natural language used by humans, without the formalized syntax of computer languages (Qualtrics). This allows for the IVR to better comprehend the meaning behind what a customer is saying and use the information to make more accurate decisions on what help the customer needs. Research indicates that by utilizing conversational IVR tools like NLU, 66% of requests can be resolved faster as compared to that of human agents (Analytics Insight). 


One of the most effective and cost-effective ways to streamline an IVR experience is to allow customers to complete a simple, repeatable function in the IVR itself (i.e., pay their bill). This makes it much faster for customers to get their issue resolved, reduces the amount of human intervention needed, and allows agents to assist with more pressing or complex customer needs. This functionality, otherwise known as self-service, is a very effective way to assist both customers and companies – the more self-service functionality available, the fewer agents, the higher the call deflection is. Self-service can take multiple forms: self-guided IVR prompting, SMS text messages to online links, or leveraging multimodal solutions where callers can be referenced to online chat bots. The key to an effective self-service is understanding your customer base, the actions that are repeatedly done in the IVR and designing an easy to navigate customer experience that leverages data. When done correctly, self-service can improve the customer experience while allowing companies to cut costs.  

Predictive AI 

Everyone is now starting to incorporate the latest AI technologies to improve customer experience. While a newer type of IVR technology, Predictive AI strives to anticipate the customers’ needs based on previous interactions, dynamically respond to what a customer has said, and adapt the experience on a case-by-case basis. As a result, Average Handle Time (AHT) times are shorter, the customer experience is more natural, and less maintenance work is needed by IVR development and testing teams. 

Leverage Callbacks within Your IVR Contact Center 

One of the most frustrating components of an IVR isn’t the IVR at all. Once the call is routed to an agent, there is a possibility customers will need to wait on hold for a long time. Even if the agent pool is large, wait times can still be long depending on the call volume at that time. One of the best practices that Kenway recommends for agent queues is to leverage IVR technology to allow customers to schedule a call back at a time that is convenient for them. If callback technology is implemented correctly, customers can still get the assistance needed without having to sacrifice hours of their day, increasing customer satisfaction, decreasing Average Handle Time (AHT) and improving issue resolve rates. 

How do you maintain an effective IVR?  

Prioritization and Backlog 

Monitoring, controlling, and continuously improving your IVR system ensures sustainability of both the system and customer experience. Establishing a feedback loop process between business and technical teams that incorporates call listening and other data analysis helps identify defects or enhancements that can be prioritized and added to a backlog. Advanced tooling for Quality Management powered by AI is enlarging the pool of calls that can be analyzed with a focus on customer experience.  

Success Criteria and Reporting 

It’s important to establish success criteria and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure how well the IVR is performing and to set annual goals. This will also help identify areas for focus and improvement and fill the feedback loop process. Containment is an example of an ineffective KPI if reviewed independently; containment measures the percentage of calls that did not reach an agent for a particular intent and is a very popular metric when reviewing IVR data. This KPI, however, does not accurately measure the experience of a customer. For example, if a customer hangs up due to frustration, it would technically be a ‘contained’ call – while informative, this does not allow companies to truly measure the success of their IVR. Containment, however, can be a helpful KPI when coupled with metrics like success rate or certain disposition fields. This allows companies to see both if a caller did not reach an agent, and WHY they did not reach an agent. Was it because the function they wanted to complete was successful (I.e., paying a bill)? Or was it because the customer hung up prematurely? Understanding the correct mix of KPIs is paramount to understand the efficacy of your IVR, as well as identifying potential enhancement areas. To track KPIs to ensure the IVR is performing as desired, it is critical to establish solid reporting practices to ensure metrics are visible and can be easily accessed. Read more about Kenway’s approach to IVR reporting here


Recognizing that maintaining an IVR is an ongoing process, having an IVR system that is adaptable is important. Setting up the IVR system to allow for standard, recurring changes ensures the IVR does not become obsolete. Adaptability also allows for new technologies and business offerings to be introduced to better support the customer base.  

Automated Testing 

One of the most fundamental steps in ensuring your IVR is effective and remains effective is to ensure solid testing procedures are put in place before any enhancement, adjustment, or defect fix is put into production. This should be done with all IVR changes, whether it be to NLU recognition, prompting, or to the rules that route customers to an agent. Without a strong testing process, it is likely defects will begin to impact customers, increasing the likelihood that they will become frustrated and hang up. Tools in the market now allow organizations to define an automated testing strategy, leveraging AI to execute thousands of tests automatically and benchmark recognition at every stage. Read more here

While simple in theory, creating and managing an effective IVR system is no small task. Every organization should define a unique implementation strategy depending on the type of services provided, number of customers who will call, and an understanding of their customer base. With over 15 years of experience in the Contact Center space, Kenway is dedicated to helping companies design their Contact Center strategy, streamline their IVR systems, bringing the best possible experience for customers while not breaking the bank. Connect with us to learn more about how we can help you help your customers more effectively with a strong IVR.  


How does IVR system work?

An IVR (Interactive Voice Recognition System) is a configurable system that leverages automated flows and prompts to interact with callers. IVRs generally include a menu with corporate branding and intent collection or a keypad menu, and a logic routing tree that directs callers to the right agent or to a self-service flow where transactions can be made automatically

What is IVR in customer service?

IVRs are used in customer service to engage callers and provide an efficient and seamless customer experience. IVRs are used to automate the initial interaction with callers, gathering common information that will allow callers to route to the right resource to complete their action.

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