IVRs: 5 Things You Really Don’t Need to Say

As a professional voice talent who specializes in voicing all manner of telephone applications — and as someone who’s done it for awhile — I can confess to some of it being quite formulaic. Basically, what everyone wants is a warm greeting for their callers, simple instructions as to which department people should shuffle their calls, and perhaps a courteous after-hours greeting explaining when people can call back and start the whole process again.

It becomes clear to me, though, that there are commonly heard aspects to automated phone systems which people hear all the time. Because they’re so familiar and widely heard, people are convinced they’re necessary in *their* systems, even when they just plain don’t make sense. Maybe these prompts were important at one time, but they no longer are needed.

Top 5 Things Not to Say Anymore

I’ve composed a list of ‘instructions’ which I’m repeatedly asked to voice, but just plain don’t make sense. These 5 prompts could probably be purged from phone trees forever.

  1. “Please leave your name, number, and a brief message….”

Is anyone unclear about what sort of information we should leave on a voicemail system? Has anyone not known what to leave in a message? Perhaps, in a panic, someone recorded: “…so, if you could get back to me about that, it would be great. My shoe size is 8 and a half, my favorite Jello flavor is lime, and my address is 10 Main Street. Thanks!” I think we all know what data is preferred in this voicemail message context. And, as for asking for a “Brief message?” It’s a veritable invitation for people to ramble.

  1. “To end this call, please hang up.”

Watch any child playing with a toy phone. What do children do when they’re finished talking? They hang up. Every time. They don’t need to be told. Neither do your callers.

  1. “Our website is: WWW….”

I’m going to play the “Caller is Smarter Than You Think” card, and send this out: I think we all know — by now — that most web domains start with “WWW” — correct? I remember the first time I had to say “WWW” in a radio commercial, and thinking: This is impossible to say smoothly. It’s become so automatic now, that it’s effortless for most people to say, and it’s now taken for granted that if you’re talking about a website, most will automatically begin with “WWW.” Unless your web address has a different log-in protocol, and your site begins with “WWW,” you’re safe in just writing “Visit our website at angrysquirrel.com for a full listing of our prices and services.” 

  1. “We Are Experiencing a Higher-Than-Normal Call Volume.”

So, if I’d called ten minutes earlier, I would have gotten straight through to the CEO? I don’t believe it. Especially when you encounter the message during off hours. Most times, when I’m asked to record that phrase, it’s a part of the company’s main IVR greeting and it’s not swapped in during the busy times and swapped out for a “Normal Call Volume” message. I maintain that it’s a device to make the company “feel” bigger; to make callers feel grateful that they even got through; and to make a caller more tolerant of her time on hold. (Plus, writing: “We’re short of call center staff” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.) It’s time to drop take this off your call script.

  1. “Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed…”

Chances are, if your callers have called in on a regular basis, they’re probably pretty safe in simply pressing the extension they’re accustomed to, even if there are minor tweaks to the voicemail (and those are usually due to staff changes; it’s unusual for entire departments to have their extensions completely re-assigned.) What I actually frequently want to record for a company is this message: “Please listen carefully, our extensions have NOT recently changed; I just worked really hard recording these!”

Keep It Natural, Avoid Clichés

I think it’s possible to design a phone system which gets the job done. You want a message that welcomes, sorts, informs, and thanks. It’s best to have it written in such a way that the spoken words read conversationally…and can therefore be read in a natural, candid way which avoids formulas and clichés.

What are your pet peeves when listening to a company’s call recordings? Which dated messages would you delete?

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