The Top 5 Mistakes Small Business Owners Make With Their IVR


This is a guest post by Allison Smith, an internationally recognized professional voice talent, specializing in voicing telephone systems.

As a small business owner, your phone system sets the tone for callers. It lets them know what it will be like to do business with you. It gives them a glimpse into your personality and the type of company you are.

At least it should.

I’m a professional telephone voice. I have voiced phone systems for enterprise carriers, and I have voiced IVRs for mom-and-pop small businesses. No matter the size of your business, there are some common pitfalls that get in the way of you implementing a streamlined, uncomplicated IVR that effortlessly guides your callers to the correct person or department and shows them who you are.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes small companies make when designing and implementing the pre-recorded options in their business phone tree, along with ways to avoid them:

1. You try to make your company sound bigger

I frequently voice intro messages that 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 small company, too — so I understand the necessity in wearing numerous hats. Just be aware that too many options or sub-directories point to an obvious attempt to sound bigger. It’s OK – and even preferable – to limit the amount of choices in the opening menu to 4 or 5 max.

2. You forgo IVR and/or automated reception altogether

With many SMB’s leading a mobile, on-the-go existence, many opt for passing calls directly to their personal cell phones. This is a less than optimal situation since is nearly impossible for clients to *stop* using your personal cell as their point of contact. Boundaries between you and your clients are lost, and you may find yourself interrupted intermittently throughout the work day and even on nights and weekends. I strongly recommend using of at least one form of intermediary – like an IVR, a receptionist service, or both in tandem. A live receptionist works for high-touch service, which goes hand-in-hand paired with a friendly, professional IVR. This layered approach creates a professional image, and is a highly intuitive, multi-pronged strategy to caller management.

3. Your most important options are lost in the menu

I once voiced an IVR system for a heart clinic in Florida which had 12 different options to choose from (too many), and the very last option said: “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up, and dial 911.” Let’s say 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. Identify the top five reasons for callers to call, and front-stack them according to urgency/popularity.

4. You haven’t given callers a direct route to service

Generally speaking, modern callers are DIY’ers, and are accustomed to arriving at a solution by themselves, in a self-serve way. Unless they’re a first-time caller or they encounter an overflow situation, in which all agents are busy. You want to avoid new callers ending up in your voicemail, where the “chain of service” ends and the likelihood of a return call from your business is uncertain.

I’ve found that many clients are afraid to offer a “Press 0” option in their IVR if none of the menu choices fit (out of a fear that the “0” option will be abused), but callers know when to choose an automated route and when to “hold out” for personalized service. Connect your “Press 0” calls to a virtual receptionist service like for new callers who may be potential clients. You won’t be interrupted but the caller receive a more personalized approach and friendly assistance instead of a cold voicemail message. Repeat callers (the DIY’ers) will be happy to engage with the IVR system, since they likely already know one of the available options will meet their needs.

5. Your greetings are voiced by someone in the office

Why not? Everyone speaks, don’t they? Not to over-inflate the importance of what I do for a living, but the voicing of your opening greeting, your closed greeting, and staff directory – when recorded by a pro – speaks volumes about your professionalism and image. Having a member of staff go into a quiet boardroom and voice the prompts over a telephone handset is rife with issues: recordings made directly over the phone are of terrible sound quality, mistakes cannot be edited out, and a staffer – while right there in your office – will be focused on their core competency and less available for re-dos and changes than an off-site voice pro with their own studio and a full-time dedication to recording IVR. If you wouldn’t dream of designing your website yourself, hire a professional to record your IVR prompts. The result will be an elevated small business with a level of professionalism that matches your own products and services.

Solo Business
Small Business
Written by Allison Smith

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, heard on systems for ShoreTel, Mitel, Asterisk, Cisco, and countless others.

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