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Is your IVR increasing customer effort?

May 18, 2023


One of the most common things we hear from contact center leaders is that they want to streamline customer service processes so that every customer has access to fast and easy support. But could your efforts to streamline actually be increasing customer effort?

When 96% of customers who experience high-effort service experiences report being disloyal, compared to only 9% with low-effort experiences, it’s essential to know whether your voice assistant truly enhances your customer’s journey or unintentionally creates more hurdles.

Is your IVR worth the effort?

Many contact centers continue to use touch-tone Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, where customers must press a key to choose which category their query falls under.

But often, customers are calling because they don’t know how to categorize their problem. They want to talk it through. Touch-tone IVRs require customers to think on your terms, guessing which category you think their query is most likely to fall under.

Steve Krug’s hugely influential book, Don’t Make Me Think, is based on the premise that good software or websites are highly intuitive, and don’t require users to think about what they need to do.

In Don’t Make Me Think, Krug proposed three laws of usability, two of which should be applied to the voice channel when designing effortless experiences:

  1. Don’t make me think – Callers immediately understand what is required of them to resolve their problem without thinking about what they are doing.
  2. Make every click (menu option) instinctive – Every action is instinctive and obvious, so callers feel sure of their choice.

The moment a caller has to think about something that isn’t the task at hand, it distracts from the action they want to take and increases the effort required to solve their problem.

Restricting callers to limited menus also leads to misrouted calls, where customers are passed between departments, further increasing the effort needed to resolve their problem.

Are you making customers guess your IVR menu?

The development of conversational IVRs has enabled callers to describe their queries rather than using a phone’s keypad. Despite efforts to move towards conversational interactions, these systems only successfully route the call if the right keywords are used.

Instead of speaking freely, callers must consider which keywords will trigger the best course of action. Interactions like this require time and effort from customers as they try to navigate a menu they can’t see. Often, this attempt at providing a more ‘natural’ experience ends up being more complicated than a touch-tone IVR, where the caller can at least hear the menu options on offer.

If customers cannot guess the right keyword, they get stuck in a self-service loop with little control over the conversation, often leaving them with no option but to hang up or shout, “Agent!”.

Are you telling your customers you can’t understand?

How a voice assistant sounds is pivotal to how easily the caller feels they can interact with it.

Agents don’t start a conversation with “I’m a customer service representative. I can offer technical support or answer FAQs.” They open with a variation of “How can I help?”.

When robotic voice assistants greet customers with, “Which option can I help you with?” it immediately gives callers the impression that you have limited capacity to understand them, making them feel like they have to resort back to using keywords to get an answer.

Asking open questions enables callers to speak freely, just as they would with another person. As a result, callers spend less effort consider which keyword will trigger the best action.

Letting customers describe their problems and reacting appropriately is critical to building trust. Customers who trust the system are more likely to engage further.

At PolyAI, we have seen a 40% increase in engagement between voice assistants with simple, natural-sounding first turns and ones that sound more robotic.


When deploying voice assistants, companies must consider customer effort. A truly customer-led voice assistant empowers callers to drive conversations how they want and efficiently resolve their issues. Creating these conversations requires unique technology developed explicitly for spoken interactions.

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