IVRs: 5 Things You Really Don’t Need to Say

By Allison Smith
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As a professional voice talent who specializes in voicing all manner of telephone applications — and as someone who’s done it for awhile — I can confess to some of it being quite formulaic. Basically, what everyone wants is a warm greeting for their callers, simple instructions as to which department people should shuffle their calls, and perhaps a courteous after-hours greeting explaining when people can call back and start the whole process again.

It becomes clear to me, though, that there are commonly heard aspects to automated phone systems which people hear all the time. Because they’re so familiar and widely heard, people are convinced they’re necessary in *their* systems, even when they just plain don’t make sense. Maybe these prompts were important at one time, but they no longer are needed.

Top 5 Things Not to Say Anymore

I’ve composed a list of ‘instructions’ which I’m repeatedly asked to voice, but just plain don’t make sense. These 5 prompts could probably be purged from phone trees forever.

  1. “Please leave your name, number, and a brief message….”

Is anyone unclear about what sort of information we should leave on a voicemail system? Has anyone not known what to leave in a message? Perhaps, in a panic, someone recorded: “…so, if you could get back to me about that, it would be great. My shoe size is 8 and a half, my favorite Jello flavor is lime, and my address is 10 Main Street. Thanks!” I think we all know what data is preferred in this voicemail message context. And, as for asking for a “Brief message?” It’s a veritable invitation for people to ramble.

  1. “To end this call, please hang up.”

Watch any child playing with a toy phone. What do children do when they’re finished talking? They hang up. Every time. They don’t need to be told. Neither do your callers.

  1. “Our website is: WWW….”

I’m going to play the “Caller is Smarter Than You Think” card, and send this out: I think we all know — by now — that most web domains start with “WWW” — correct? I remember the first time I had to say “WWW” in a radio commercial, and thinking: This is impossible to say smoothly. It’s become so automatic now, that it’s effortless for most people to say, and it’s now taken for granted that if you’re talking about a website, most will automatically begin with “WWW.” Unless your web address has a different log-in protocol, and your site begins with “WWW,” you’re safe in just writing “Visit our website at angrysquirrel.com for a full listing of our prices and services.” 

  1. “We Are Experiencing a Higher-Than-Normal Call Volume.”

So, if I’d called ten minutes earlier, I would have gotten straight through to the CEO? I don’t believe it. Especially when you encounter the message during off hours. Most times, when I’m asked to record that phrase, it’s a part of the company’s main IVR greeting and it’s not swapped in during the busy times and swapped out for a “Normal Call Volume” message. I maintain that it’s a device to make the company “feel” bigger; to make callers feel grateful that they even got through; and to make a caller more tolerant of her time on hold. (Plus, writing: “We’re short of call center staff” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.) It’s time to drop take this off your call script.

  1. “Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed…”

Chances are, if your callers have called in on a regular basis, they’re probably pretty safe in simply pressing the extension they’re accustomed to, even if there are minor tweaks to the voicemail (and those are usually due to staff changes; it’s unusual for entire departments to have their extensions completely re-assigned.) What I actually frequently want to record for a company is this message: “Please listen carefully, our extensions have NOT recently changed; I just worked really hard recording these!”

Keep It Natural, Avoid Clichés

I think it’s possible to design a phone system which gets the job done. You want a message that welcomes, sorts, informs, and thanks. It’s best to have it written in such a way that the spoken words read conversationally…and can therefore be read in a natural, candid way which avoids formulas and clichés.

What are your pet peeves when listening to a company’s call recordings? Which dated messages would you delete?

There Are 4 Comments

  • Jerry says:

    I hate the phone systems that say “Please hold on…” What am I supposed to hold on TO? Please hold makes sense, please hold on, does not.

    My other pet peeve is systems that do not allow you to access a real person no matter what you do. What happens if someone calls in on an old phone that doesn’t have touch tone for example? Did you know that there are still places in the United States where touch tone isn’t even offered yet? They’re rural, but they’re real. Every phone system should plan to have a response to those that can’t touch a key other than “Thank you. Goodbye.”

  • David M says:

    Good Article, I agree with you on most every point. except number 5. Having the “Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed” is a good Idea, if you have made major changes to the IVR. I am rebuilding our IVR and have a hard date in the calendar to remove that part of the prompt, I figure 6 months is long enough. The problem comes with companies that don’t update it and 2 years after the last update it’s still playing.

  • Allion Smith says:

    These are great comments: David M.: very glad to hear you at least set up a date to delete the “IVR has changed” thing — that’s progress!

  • Kevin Keane says:

    The problem with the “the options have recently changed” prompt is that a) there is no indication when “recently” was. Was it yesterday, four weeks ago, six months ago, or years ago? If I called two weeks ago, have they changed in the meantime? and b) that everybody seems to be using it permanently.

    And why six months? That’s an eternity. The announcement is only useful for people who call regularly, at least weekly or so. Infrequent callers have to listen to the options anyway.

    If you really feel you need to include this announcement, include the date when the IVR was changed, and remove after a few weeks.

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About the Author

Allison Smith

If you’ve listened to the public airwaves, used an automated phone system, participated in a phone survey, or even used a talking thermostat, you’re familiar with Allison Smith. One of the most prevalent telephone voices in the world today, Allison has voiced platforms for Vonage, Bell Canada, Cingular, Verizon, Qwest, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom – as well as being the voice of the Asterisk Open Source PBX. Clients include Marriot Hotels, 3M, Pfizer, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America and EBay among many others. Her website is www.theivrvoice.com and www.theasteriskvoice.com.

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