National Seminar Report: IVR and On-Hold Telephony Messages

This year’s breakfast briefing was on the very popular topic of IVR and On-Hold Telephony messages with great round table discussions and presentations from Richard Hoyle, Advitel and Nick Herbert, adexchange.

What is the purpose of your IVR? Is it to improve customer experience, provide choice and automation or route calls for improved reporting? 

What message do you customer’s want to hear?  Is it how long the queue is, or their position in the queue?  Or, is it alternative ways of contact, e.g. website, web chat, call back, etc.  Even when service level is achieved some customers will queue, but what can they hear when they are in the queue?

The Power of Voice
Richard Hoyle from Advitel gave a compelling presentation “The Power of the Voice”.  From Simple Auto Attendants setups to Complex IVRs the experience must be good.  Essential to fast and efficient routing of calls to the right people, creating engaging callers locked in and not disenchanted.  

Where does it all go wrong?
Does the voice represent the business brand while appealing to the caller?  Common characteristics include: Poor use of language, e.g. ‘We value your patience’, ‘you are 4th in the queue’, or ‘thank you for holding’ which are all negative messages.  Lack of engagement in queue, e.g. irrelevant content played, music that at least 50% of callers won’t like (what do you play? Techno to Classical?), content not updated regularly, out of date and irrelevant messages.  

Is there a clearly defined review process for the content and who is involved in this, marketing, operations, telephony, planning, etc?  Whose responsibility is this?  Telephony infrastructure manager, Call centre manager, marketing?  How often is the ‘caller experience’ actually tested?  How many different voices exist on your telephony platform, including out of hours and emergency messages?  Do you use a member of staff, the one ‘with a nice voice’, and if not available do recordings have to wait or just not get updated.  Do other areas of business get involved like marketing which result in delays.  This all contributes to a poor journey map and poor caller experience resulting in confusion and frustration.


  • Use professional voice artists that reflect the brand and relates to the caller, native speakers, native country, maybe even county/regional area.  Caller needs to be able to relate to the voice and wants to use the system, as it feels familiar.
  • What is an agent, are we talking about secret agents 007 or Estate agents?  If a person will answer the call then suggest this, e.g. customer advisor, or even just ‘someone‘.
  • Think about what the customer wants, when making the call, not what you want the customer to do, ‘outside in not inside out’.
  •  Could you add targeted information to the caller at the welcome/pre-queue stage to improve their experience?
  • Keep things simple, easy to hear messages with uncomplicated menus/routing.  How many different levels exist in your IVR routing map?    
  • Consistency of voice, from welcome message to on hold messages, this can help reduce any caller confusion.
  • Update your in-queue messages regularly.  How often do you customers call you?  If your customers call every day, and there is always a queue (however small) you may want to update your messages every day, e.g. add new articles/current affairs.  If your customers are only likely to contact quarterly, think about quarterly updates.
  • Make the in-queue message relevant for your customer.
Making Words Work
Former BBC journalist Nick Herbert from Adexchange gave an excellent about “Making Words Work” and how his experience of writing short news bulletins has helped to improve IVR and on-hold messages.

Ear Can’t Read!
Are your customers really listening to your welcome message and menu prompts?  Is English their first language?  How good is their hearing?  Are your customer used to company jargon and TLAs (Two/three letter abbreviations)?

Apply short words which are commonly used in daily conversations, don’t use written English only spoken English.  Avoid verbs that imply live/recorded.

Examples of words not to use and their replacements:

 Don't Use
 Purchase  Buy
 Dispatch / Ship
 Enquire  Ask
 Locate  Find
 Assistance  Help

Golden Rules

  • Assume the customer is doing something else.
  • Use short, simple words and commonly used language.
  • No business speak/industry terms.
  • Avoid verbs that imply live or recorded.
  • Use spoken English, not written English.
  • Write a script and use a professional voice artist for your recordings.

View the presentations.

Take a look at these articles, videos and links
Find out more about Best Practice in IVR and On-Hold telephony


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