Self-Service IVR: Do’s and Don’ts for Small Businesses

As a business, it’s your responsibility to provide customer service. However, doing so can present some pretty serious challenges. That has led to the rise of self-service interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Most customers are happy with self-service options because they’re fast, put them in control, and help to streamline the process of communication. You only need to look at the popularity of things like self-checkout in grocery stores and self-service knowledgebases on websites as proof of this. 

However, you must do things correctly with your self-service IVR if you want to maximize its value to your business and your customers. We’ve compiled a list of critical do’s and don’ts to inform your strategy.

What is self-service IVR?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of things, let’s talk about self-service IVR for just a moment. What is it? 

Technically, you can see this as the next evolution of the automated phone system, where a customer had to press a button or speak a word to complete actions over the phone. A modern self-service IVR combines the functionality of speech recognition technology with the flexibility and adaptability of AI. 

The system will collect data from callers, analyze it, and then direct them to a solution based on their responses to specific prompts. In some cases, it’s possible to solve a problem or provide information and guidance without the caller ever having to speak to a human being. These systems can also help in other ways, including:

  • Scheduling appointments or callbacks
  • Transferring calls to voicemail boxes
  • Collecting customer contact information
  • Sending the caller to the next available live operator
  • Transfer calls to a different agent

A self-service IVR relies on AI-powered natural language processing capabilities. This rules-based approach recognizes specific words and phrases and combines that with an analysis of sentiment and intent to determine what the caller might need.

Do’s and don’ts to guide your system

With a better understanding of what a self-service IVR is and how one might work, let’s get into the do’s and don’ts you’ll need to follow.


  • Structure call menus logically and consistently. Remember that your callers will need to navigate them, so put yourself in their shoes.
  • Use multiple call routing tactics, including list-based, round-robin, skills-based, time-based, and relationship-based to deliver a better experience to each caller. 
  • Limit the options on your call menu to keep from overwhelming callers. It’s very hard to keep track of more than five options, and complex menus may require your callers to repeat the list several times, which doesn’t improve their experience.
  • Continually review performance metrics so you can fine-tune your system. Look at factors like call wait times, call length, call resolution rates, calls sent to voicemail, voicemails returned, the number of abandoned calls, and more.
  • Ask for feedback from your customers. This information can go well beyond what your analytics will reveal and can help you pinpoint weak points in your system and make necessary changes.
  • Pay attention to queue length and optimize as necessary. Using a self-service IVR doesn’t mean your callers will never have to wait, and that wait time can be long depending on their needs and the situation. Optimization options include providing the choice to call back later, to schedule a call, providing wait times, and offering alternative contact methods.


  • Don’t make callers repeat themselves. Being endlessly asked to provide the same information is a major pain point for callers dealing with self-service IVR systems.
  • Don’t disconnect callers. This is most common with systems that limit wait times in call queues. 
  • Don’t use a generic greeting. Keep your greeting updated so that it reflects things like the time of year or large-scale company problems customers might be calling about, such as service outages.
  • Don’t rely solely on your self-service IVR system. While these can be very helpful tools, they’re not the only solution you should be using. 

Drawbacks of self-service IVRs

While self-service IVR systems can be very helpful, they do have some drawbacks. One of the most important is that they’re impersonal and sometimes very inflexible. They rely on technology to understand what a caller needs based on the words they say and their tone of voice, but sometimes callers are unsure how to ask for what they need. This can lead to missed opportunities and create negative experiences with your brand. 

Another drawback here is that IVR systems are pretty limited in what they can enable callers to do. If the request isn’t on the menu, the caller will need to wait to speak with a human agent. And because you’ve likely reduced the number of agents working at any given time (one of the prime reasons for moving to an IVR in the first place), those wait times can be very long indeed.

A better solution than self-service IVR

The point of a self-service IVR is to empower callers while reducing your costs. However, the result is often a negative experience for callers. A better option is to use a virtual receptionist service. This ensures that every single call is answered by a human being who can then listen to the caller and provide accurate information, discuss their options, take their information and enter it into your CRM, and more. 

A professionally trained virtual receptionist can transfer callers to the appropriate agent, reduce wait times dramatically, book appointments, send follow-up emails and texts, and so much more. 

At, our team of North America-based virtual receptionists is waiting to help you transform your caller experience. To learn more, schedule a consultation or reach out to

Virtual Receptionists
24/7 Call Answering
Written by Tom Armitage

Tom Armitage is a Senior Marketing Manager with

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