How can you help make your clients’ telephone systems and customer service even better? The answer lies in the IVR menu.

I was reading an article printed in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal this week pertaining to corporate telephone systems and how they irritate callers who want to talk to a ‘real’ person. The article featured, a US based database that publishes a cheat sheet to help those who are frustrated by telephone system recordings get through to a real person, whether it be getting through to someone who works for a business or for the government.

Using these automated systems is a sore spot for a growing number of people, particularly elders and those with hearing problems. One of the communications businesses mentioned in the article argues that the “IVR speeds up access to services, data, and information through immediate and real-time interaction.” An increasing percentage of callers find it difficult to accept that response. While it’s true that the information buried within these systems is useful, the very tools built to serve shouldn’t make receiving personal customer service an obstacle.

Something that the article suggested as a starting point, if not a solution, was for the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to include an option that allows a caller to get through to a person for immediate assistance. Many of you serve as the voices for automated telephone systems. Bearing that in mind, the next time you receive a script to record for a company telephone system, it may be prudent to suggest that the IVR contains an option to reach someone immediately for service and not another IVR menu or on-hold message.

For example:
For sales, press one
For support, press two
To speak with someone immediately, press three
This minor suggestion will benefit your customers greatly and provide their customers with a better experience all around.
Any thoughts on this?

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. Hi Stephanie!
    I totally agree with what you wrote…with one caveat: by the time we – as voice talent – get the script, the IVR system architecture has already been written and the voicing is the last piece of the puzzle to be put in place. I spent 9 years working for a studio that worked almost exclusively in recording IVR systems and we were often called in once everything was built. Now, those were large jobs (banks, corporations, etc) and they had consultants & usability people that had already gone through the systems and hopefully realized that often callers do “just want to talk to a human!” So it might be too late at that point. If however you’re working with a smaller client, I absolutely agree that suggesting an “opt-out” option to get to a human makes you look like you really know what you’re doing! Another suggestion is that there should be no more than 4 options per tree (Press 1 for sales, press 2 for tech support, press 3 for our company directory, press 4 for more options) otherwise by the time the user gets to “Press 9” he’s ready to hang-up! 😉

  2. Hi Stephanie,
    I agree with yours and Liz’s comments. But IVR’s are probably not going away for a while. So let’s work positively with them!
    Another factor I feel should be discussed here is the tone of the voice used for IVR recordings. Be a human! Don’t sound like an announcer on steroids or a robotic automation. (I’m sure we’ve all heard both types on IVRs) First impressions count.
    Many times the IVR/auto attendant is the first encounter a customer has with the company and the voice used represents the image, or “face” of the business. Add some personality, but do your homework about the clientele and the demographics you are addressing, so meandering through the inevitable array of options is a more satisfying experience for the user.
    Thanks for listening.
    Bobbin Beam

  3. The most maddening IVR systems are the ones that try to act real with speech detection (press or say “customer service.) Sears does this. They ask a question, you give an answer and they will say “did you say…” and by this time you are saying YES YES YES. It’s like talking to someone who doesn’t pay attention to you. As far as voicing these, I would say just sound as friendly and helpful as possible. I’ve heard elderly people start to talk back to these menus like they were live people only to be interrupted by the next phrase. Sometimes the “real” person is so unhelpful that the friendly automation voice might be a better alternative. These systems are really great though for things like banks and credit cards where you just want to check your balance and don’t really require human intervention.

  4. These are all great points. One other thing that would help most IVR systems is to help the caller get to his or her intended destination as quickly as possible by having fewer nested menus.
    For example, if the first menu offers “Sales” as an option, and that takes me to another menu where I choose “Corporate Sales” and that leads to another menu where I choose “Southeast Region” and that leads to yet another menu — that’s too many menus. If Corporate Sales, Government Sales, and Retail Sales could all be offered on the first menu, that would save a step for the caller and move the call forward more quickly.
    But as has been said already, generally by the time the script gets to the voice talent, it’s too late to change the structure.
    Rich Roszel

  5. Liz here again!
    Bobbin, you’re right about “sounding human!” Absolutely! That’s the goal. To make the system sound human and make it more “user-friendly”
    And about being the “face” of the company – again, you’re right on!
    You’re also right about IVRs not going anywhere soon. We’ve heard for years about Text-to-Speech being the wave of the future, but those systems are not where they need to be yet for people (users) to really embrace them yet…of course if you get hired as a VO talent for a text-to-speech application, then THAT’s a BIG job and could be great for you personally ;-).
    Basically, if we keep sounding our best, thus making our clients sound the best and making the IVR system easier for the end-user (caller) to navigate, then it’s a win-win for everyone!…so “Press-away!” 😉
    Liz de Nesnera

  6. Hi!
    I’ve been working as a voice in the on hold message business for years and I have absolutely no say in what the script is. It is completely out of my hands.
    I once had to record something like this: ” this number no longer exists. To find out what the new number is, log onto our website on http://www…” How annoyed would you be if you heard that on the phone! But the clients use automated voices because they don’t want the callers to speak to someone. In this case, they wanted the callers to check out their website.
    These are marketing decisions, not voice decisions.
    But we lose nothing in trying…

  7. Hi Stephanie
    I totally agree. There is nothing more annoying as a customer than feeling that you can’t talk to a human being!!
    Sally Lomax

  8. All great points, it is very frustrating to go though these menus. All I want is to get to a real person right away. I hate it when I push zero and get ” thats not an option” I say they need to make it an option. We all grew up with zero as a great option. The companies can’t take that away. Thanks

  9. Any IVR I’ve ever dealt with includes this option: “to speak with a customer representative, press… (usually ‘zero’).” So, I’m surprised to learn that this is an issue. Including the option earlier in the script, as Stephanie suggests, might be one way to make things easier for callers. I agree with Claire that it’s not a voice talent’s place to write the script, or even correct it. I’ve found that letters to a company president can work wonders.

  10. I saw all valid points.
    When and if a voice talent has the opportunity to help direct the structure of a message tree, he/she would need to know what the company really wants before that direction would be useful. The customer might benefit but what is the real intention of the company?
    We can only hope that it’s core motivation is customer convenience or some other customer-centered objective. The voice talent could simply be wasting his breath.


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