Top 10 IVR Mistakes

I have a few years under my belt voicing telephony platforms, and I can tell you that there are some universal mistakes that I see on a consistent basis  — and most make sense if you simply think back to the last frustrating IVR you found yourself trying to navigate. Here they are — in no particular order:


1. You Try To Make Your Company Sound Bigger

I have voiced intro messages which sometimes exceed 15-20 options — and most of them just re-route back to a single point of contact. You press accounts receivable, payable, tech support — it all ends up at the same friendly CEO/accountant/chief bottle washer. I’m a one-person company, too — so I understand the necessity in wearing numerous hats. Just be aware that too many options point to an obvious attempt to sound bigger.

2. Your Most Critical Information is Buried at the Bottom

I recently voiced a system for a heart clinic with — see above — 12 different options to choose from, and the very last option said: “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up, and dial 911.” I’d put that first and foremost. If you were having crushing chest pains and happened to dial your cardiologist’s office instead of 911, wouldn’t you want to be set straight — sooner than later? That goes for customers who are having technical support issues with the internet service you provide/support — let’s give those people with an emergent need a gateway to get to a person — fast.

3. You Give Lengthy Directions to Your Office/Facility

If you must provide an option with driving directions — and I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a good or necessary thing, especially with the prevalence of GPS systems — keep them as short, succinct, and as pertinent as possible. (“Turn left. You’ll see a war memorial on your left, and a Piggly Wiggly on the right..” is probably too much detail to give.)

4. You Over-Estimate People’s Attention Spans

They’re shorter than you think. All previous points I’ve made so far point towards this basic fact: keep it short. Front-load it with the most crucial info at the top — announcers and voice-over professionals have known for years that secret to a good demo is to put your best stuff at the beginning — front-load it the most impressive stuff. And don’t inundate people with more information than they need — especially at the all-important point of entry.

5. You Want Me to Voice It at a Slow Pace

I suppose this is open to interpretation, and can be more of a judgement call than anything else — if I’m voicing a pharmaceutical information line geared at seniors, I’ve been asked to take a more meticulous, exacting pace — taking into consideration hearing issues and reaction time. Fair enough. For practically any other industry — particularly those dealing with high-tech, industry-forward aspects — especially if there’s a high chance of repeat callers — let’s fly through your phone options at a fairly energetic pace. People’s time is valuable; and their frustration levels can be exacerbated by a plodding, leisurely pace.

6. You Haven’t Told Me How to Pronounce Your Staff’s Names

I’m pretty good at pronouncing place names (even those unfamiliar to me), and I’m pretty intuitive and a great guesser, but nowhere is there a greater chance of mis-pronouncing than with proper names — and it’s surprising how little direction I get with that. If you’re having someone voice a phone tree with *any* names where you think there might be multiple pronunciations or there’s a name that is often botched, please provide a pronunciation guide.

7. You Go Overboard With Niceties

There isn’t a person who has been on hold in the last twenty years who hasn’t been thanked profusely for their patience, told that their business is appreciated, or that our time is valuable. We hear it so often, if fact, that it frequently comes across as disingenuous. I try my hardest to sound as sincere and earnest as possible when voicing such platitudes; I implore the writers of IVR and on-hold systems to re-think the over-peppering of scripts with too many niceties. People get it. They know you’re busy giving someone else the same legendary service that you look forward to giving them — just keep the glad-handling to a minimum.

8. Your Company Name is Impossible to Pronounce

I ran into an interesting dilemma after I chose the name for my company — The when looking at the web address or e-mail address: , for example, scores of people have said: “Oh! It’s…..THEIR” Umm, not exactly. It really has to be carefully dissected if you hope to have someone type it in correctly — and people need to understand the acronym IVR — for it to make sense. That’s visual. I encounter *many* firms who have an unusual company name, which I have frequently gotten wrong until I was educated about the correct way to pronounce it. If I — a professional voice — gets it wrong, how often does the general public mis-pronounce it? Think  very carefully when naming your company about how the name *sounds* — and what the margin of error would be for mis-pronouncing it.

9.  You Impart Too Much Company Information in the Opening Greeting

Save all but a brief company description for your on-hold component — in your opening message, saying the briefest of blurbs about what the company does is sufficient. I voiced an opening message that talked about the company’s history, how long they’ve been in business, the products they offer, and why they’re better than their competitors. All that would be great to play while someone’s on hold — not before any department options have been given.

10. You Haven’t Read Your Copy Out Loud

Many glitches in awkward wording don’t make themselves evident when you’re simply scanning them visually — it’s really important to read your IVR script out loud to catch any odd phrasing and redundancies.

Have I missed any? Have you encountered any strange aspects to a phone tree you’re recently heard which you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment…..and believe me when I tell you this: You *are* the next caller in line. I value your patience. I know your time is valuable….

Next blog: I’ll be writing about the upcoming Astricon convention, Oct 13-15 , in Phoenix — the High Holy Days of Telephony!



  1. […] when you’re done reading the Top Ten IVR Mistakes, check out The IVR Voice as […]

  2. KodaK Said:

    You left one off that I’d think you would want to impress strongly: have a professional do it.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called a company (and not always small companies) and heard mispronounced words, awkward phrasing, halting-it’s-obvious-I’m-reading-this-for-the-first-time speech, low volume, etc. This always leaves me with a low opinion of the company I’m calling. If your company image is important to you, have a pro do it.

    • voicegal Said:

      Amen to that! A lot of people want to just outsource the voicing to their receptionist — who may, actually, be pretty good at it — but will she always be available (and willing) to update it? Will she be consistent? It costs a lot less than people think to have a voice-over pro available to do any changes and updates, and my turnaround time might actually be faster than Caitlin’s (the receptionist) 😉

  3. Carlos Alvarez Said:

    This will be permanently linked to our site and I’ll refer all of our customers to it. At least 75% of them make several of the mistakes here, and I try to talk them into revising their scripts. Luckily most do recognize that I probably know what I’m talking about, but every now and then we get a truly horrible one that just won’t be changed. This might help.

    Allison, I think one deserves to either be added or put in with the first one: Don’t use Dilbert-speak and meaningless trendy jargon. As an example, I once was forced to actually send this in for recording: “…synergistically aligning your vision with the human capital potential of your organization.” Ugh.

    • voicegal Said:

      Carlos —

      Thank you! I’ve gotten so many suggestions that I’ll likely write another article with even more common mistakes — I love this collaborative exchange of ideas! If you think of any more, let me know!

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