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Designing a phone menu is easier than it sounds. You just need to avoid some pitfalls. Allison Smith is the voice you hear when you call your phone system and leave a voicemail or press an invalid key. She is a real person and actually has some fantastic tips on how to write a great phone menu. Here are her 15 Commandments of IVR. (IVR means 'Interactive Voice Response', the technical term for a phone menu.)

The 15 Commandments of IVR

You've probably heard people talk about how much they hate phone menus. You've probably suffered through some terrible phone menu systems yourself. Here are the rules of writing GOOD phone menus that won't leave your caller frustrated and impatient. This is Allison Smith with her 15 Commandments of IVR speech. It is worth the 20 minute run time to insure you don't put your callers in "phone system hell".

Clearly the shorter you can make your menu, the better. If you can remove one or more words and still provide the necessities, your phone menu is too long. Get rid of extra words. Keeping your menu simple will not only keep callers happy, it will be cheaper to record with voice talent. (pricing below)

The 15 Commandments of IVR

  1. Don’t Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span
    The shorter you can make the menu, the better it will be for everyone involved.
  2. Thou Shalt Not Create Fake Mailboxes
    If you're a single person office, there's no need to have a bunch of fake mailboxes.
  3. Keep Things Simple
    Any sentences or words you can remove from your script and have it still work should be removed.
  4. Always Give Callers An “Opt-In”
    Always allow getting out of a menu or a hold queue by allowing them to leave a message, if they desire.
  5. Front-Load Important Information
    If you have an emergency calls option, this should be first.
  6. Understand What Constitutes a ‘Prompt’
    A Prompt is a self contained 'instruction' like 'Please hold for the next available representative' or 'press two'.
  7. Understand The Effects of Proper Punctuation in Concatenation
    A comma will cause a pause in the reading of your prompt. Three dots means there is something before it. etc.
  8. Thou Shalt Not Give Directions to Your Office/Facility
    Everyone has a mobile phone these days, give your street address only.
  9. Thou Shalt Give a Pronunciation Guide for Proper Names and Place Names
    Phonetically spelled words prevents re-dos and saves time.
  10. Name Your Company Something That Needs No Special Instruction
    Clearly if you already have a company name, we'll do our best to make it sound fabulous
  11. Don’t Go Overboard With Niceties
    'We appreciate your patience' and 'We know your time is valuable' tend to make callers believe otherwise. Avoid using them.
  12. Read The Copy Out Loud
    Before you submit your script, read it outloud to yourself and others. If it doesn't sound right, now is the time to fix it.
  13. Be Clear on Your Company’s Vision/Image – And Be Able to Explain That to Me
    Backload your menu or on-hold ad with helpful info on your company's history, its special pricing or other important and timely info.
  14. Don’t Front-Load Your Opening Prompt With Too Much Information
    The first part of your menu is not an appropriate place to give an abundance of info.
  15. Write in a Conversational Tone
    Write it they way you would say it to another living, breathing human.
Want to see if your phone menu measures up? Try our handy word calculator.