The CX Industry Must End Impossible Voice Response

For decades, automated phone trees and interactive voice response (IVR) have been a ubiquitous part of the customer service experience. IVR was originally conceived as a way of improving customer flow, to get customers to the right information more quickly and solve consumer problems without making callers wait for an operator.

By now, companies should be very good at using IVR to enhance customer experience. But the opposite is true. Just ask any consumer and you'll hear a litany of complaints. IVR is tolerated but not embraced. It doesn't have to be this way.

IVRs lack the personal touch that a human can provide. They are usually time-consuming and confusing, which leads to frustration. Sixty-one percent of respondents in a Vonage study said IVR delivers a poor experience, with 47 percent saying they feel frustrated when they call and get an IVR. Six percent were angry, and 7 percent were stressed. Perhaps worst of all, 54 percent said IVR keeps them from getting through to a live person.

A growing number of companies are making it all but impossible to reach a person without doing a Google search for a secret path to live support. Newsflash - people are onto you, and they don't like what you're doing.

Few people call a support line hoping to reach IVR. However, most people prefer self-service, according to a 2022 study, and 88 percent of U.S. respondents expect companies to offer an online self-service portal. A 2023 study found that 67 percent of folks prefer self-service options.

Companies need IVR to reduce call volume, save money, and help callers connect with the right resource in increasingly complex service organizations. Yet for many customers, IVR has come to stand for Impossible to get a Voice Response. So how should companies move away from IVR to achieve better customer outcomes?

Adopt realistic expectations about automation.

Stop trying to avoid every call type and give people fewer options. The Decision Lab did a research review on the phenomenon of The Paradox of Choice, citing many studies indicating that too many choices leads to confusion, dissonance, and, often, a rejection of all options provided.

Making it easier to address the most common problems will likely boost success rates. For example, if your call center's list of the top 10 most frequently requested services shows three that really dominate, focusing on those top three could lead to a higher number of customers successfully completing tasks without assistance.

Move people from audio to visual tools.

Instead of forcing consumers to perform tasks via audio prompts, offer to send them links to visual experiences that solve their issues. Since most people process information better visually, they will be able to complete tasks faster if they are presented options and processes they can see. Anyone who has ever tried to pay a bill via audio prompts only can attest that the process is awkward and leaves many wondering whether they did it right.

Provide text and/or text and audio tools.

Live text chat and chatbots can give consumers the option to get support in the platforms and devices they are already using. The surest way to drive up your contact center call volume is to make your customers switch channels or devices to complete a process. Many companies have spent large sums building fully featured mobile apps only to discover that only a fraction of customers will install them, and a far smaller fraction will actually use them. It's much easier just to call for support, and much more expensive for you!

Give consumers access to live human support if they are not succeeding with automated support.

We work with several companies that found faster adoption for digital solutions if people knew that if they got stuck they wouldn't have to hang up and start over in the queue.

Make essential customer support calls more satisfying and efficient.

We must also recognize that some people and problems do require human assistance. Rather than trying to avoid those customer contacts, make them more efficient by giving agents access to better tools, customer data, and self-service experiences they can send callers to shorten contacts and get them answers quickly.


Phone trees shouldn't be static. Develop an ongoing schedule of testing to improve IVR experiences with new language, flows etc. As Lily Tomlin said, "The road to success is always under construction." Companies need to realize that CX is an iterative process and will improve with each interaction and customer learning.

With the right strategy we can turn Impossible into Inviting and even Invaluable.

Ori Faran is CEO of Callvu.