Best Practices
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Interactive Voice Response
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IVR systems interactive voice response

IVR Solutions

This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to (Interactive Voice Response) IVR software and call center products.

Business phone systems and toll free answering systems (generally 800 numbers and their equivalent) are very popular for service and sales organizations, allowing customers and prospects to call your organization anywhere in the country. Our PACER and Wizard IVR systems add another dimension to our call center phone system solutions. An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) processes inbound phone calls, plays recorded messages including information extracted from databases and the internet, and potentially routes calls to either in-house service agents or transfers the caller to an outside extension.

The following article points out some of the best IVR design practices in the call center industry.

IVR Best Practices

The following is an extract from the article "Best Practices in IVR" by Walter Rolandi from

"How have best practices in IVR design changed in recent years?

I think there is good news on two fronts. First, the use of DTMF-based IVR best practices is proliferating. Keep in mind that these best practices are far from new: many have been well understood for decades. The persistent problem has however fallen between education and adoption.

What do you mean when you say education and adoption?

Today, best practice educational materials are available through a number of seminars, publications and Internet resources. At the same time, market effects are now driving adoption. What we are seeing is that the emergence of “better” DTMF based IVR systems in the market is stimulating corporate concern over the old “press one for this, press two for that” legacy systems that we have all come to abhor. As more and more callers experience the advantages of well-designed systems, increasing pressure is being brought on those responsible for maintaining the status quo. All this has contributed to more progressive scripting practices.

Second, scripting practices have been revolutionized by the introduction of extremely powerful speech recognition engines. The state of the practice in speech-based voice user interface design indicates that its best practices are still evolving yet this is a high stakes and rapidly evolving field. All in the space of just 6-7 years, speech VUI design community has tacitly adopted some underlying design standards.

Could you give us an example?

Sure. Many disparate speech applications, all developed by different vendors, now exhibit similar error recovery and timeout strategies.

Overall, scripting practices are rapidly improving and applications are accordingly becoming more effective. On the other hand, there is much to be done. If you were to call a random sample of twenty nationally deployed IVRs, you would rightly get the impression that scripting practices still often ignore even the most basic and recognized best practices. I have performed such studies for clients and have repeatedly found this to be true. . Most of us can confirm the fact based solely on our personal experiences with IVRs.

What's the ideal number of menu options? I've heard it's 5 but a lot of companies are still violating this rule. Why do you think this is?

Well, first let me address the “magic number” question, then on to the question of “why”. I’m not sure where you heard “five” but I suspect that it could stem all the way back to George Miller’s classic 1956 study, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. In this study, Miller documented the fact that most people can “process” only about seven items of information at once. Depending on the type of information and the individual being tested, sometimes the ability is limited to five but can be as high as nine. In any event, most research in this tradition focused on the ability to recall or respond to lists of visual stimuli. As it turns out, the limitations of short-term memory are even greater when the stimuli are auditory and sequentially presented. While five item menus may be common in the industry, I try to limit menus to just three possibilities.

What are your recommendations on setting up a well-designed menu system?

A well-designed menu system should lead the user into the two or three most frequently requested tasks and then branch accordingly as needed. Note that limiting the number of options that are presented becomes increasingly important for older users and non-native speakers of the language.

What are the top 5 design mistakes you see people make?

In the DTMF world:
  • Menus too long
  • Illogical or confusing presentation of information
  • Jargon
  • Ineffective failure recovery
  • Ineffective policy for accessing human help
In the speech world:
  • A tendency to focus on entertaining the user at the expense of serving him
  • Crude attempts at conversational dialog and setting unrealistic user expectations
  • Persona “bologna” or excessively animated, human-like interfaces
  • Ineffective failure recovery
  • Ineffective policy for accessing human help

What are the costs of getting it wrong?

I gave a speech a few years back, which I began by rhetorically asking that same question. I answered the question by just playing a recording of someone slamming down a telephone handset!

But more specifically, some of the consequences of faulty IVR design are:
  • Frustrated, angry customers
  • Failed transactions
  • Increased hang-ups
  • Greater user errors
  • Increased call durations required to complete transactions
  • Increased cost due to greater transfers to Customer Service Reps
Overall, these types of customer experiences are frequently shown to lead to reductions in customer satisfaction. This has implications for the company brand name, its products and services...."

To view the entire article, please visit

IVR Design and Implementation Phases

Database Systems Corp. applies the systems approach to the design and development of IVR applications for its system's and service clients. Here is a breakdown of the IVR design concepts as performed by our experienced IVR management and development organization.