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Five (More) Principles for Effective IVR Menu Design
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Five (More) Principles for Effective IVR Menu Design

October 13, 2011

  By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

TMC (News - Alert) recently reviewed five tips for effective IVR menu design, and now we’d like to go over five more.

There’s really no getting away from menus as the best way to get information from those who use your IVR system. That’s the conclusion of IVR company Angel, and if there’s anyone whose word you can take when it comes to IVR, it’s theirs. They’ve been in the business a long time.

Good principles of IVR design are simple but not easy. (News - Alert) officials say, “If certain basic principles are not observed, menus can become difficult to use.” Probably it’s their intuitive simplicity that leads people to wrongly assume hey, this is easy.

Never allow holes in your Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF or touch-tone) choices. This means don’t present options that are not sequential; offering a menu where users are given the choice of pressing 1, 2 or 4 would be an example of a menu that has a hole. This confuses your users. They do not like being unnecessarily confused; they’re calling you because they need something cleared up in the first place and are in no mood for more confusion.

Mark their current position in the menu tree. This means a simple main menu, played prior to listing the menu items. It reduces user confusion as to where they are in the dialog. “When you are leading a user down a menu path, list a menu header whenever you traverse a path and then list the sub-menu options.

Avoid mixing voice and DTMF menu choices. This is a big one, but you’d be shocked how often it happens. If your application is voice-enabled, avoid cramming your menu prompts with instructions on how to pick menu items by voice and by DTMF. First offer the voice-only menu, if they can handle that, great. If they can’t, then give them a “Press 1 for...” menu.

Use the same part of speech/clausal form in all lists. Once again, simple consistency goes a long way to keeping users from unnecessary confusion. Everything seems easy when you’re the one planning it out, but it’s a different experience for a first-time user. An example of a bad prompt would be giving the choices as “Balance,” “Open account” or “Transfer.” Instead, to keep it consistent, present “Check balance,” “Open account” or “Transfer funds.”

Keep your menus consistent with one another. You’re getting the idea that consistency is one of the most important features of a well-constructed IVR menu, right? Good. Once users have gotten past the first menu, make sure sub-menus only offer options that apply to them. Make sure that the system takes into account their choices and remembers them.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Tammy Wolf
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