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Best design practices in designing IVR
Sep 2015

Best design practices in designing IVR

Lady using a mobile phone
In 2009, we conducted an assessment of four Interactive Voice Response (IVR)s for various government agencies with 74 participants (using touch-tone, not speech recognition). Among the ergonomic weaknesses that we identified, the most common were related to terminology (vocabulary, labels, jargon as well as the syntax) and too many options in the menus.
Six years later, we’ve found that the majority of problems identified at that time are still present today.
Here are 6 best design practices we recommend:
  1. Terminology Study
    Listening and transcribing the exact keywords and wording used in real phone conversations is essential to understand which level of terminology is appropriate.
  2. Simplicity
    Overcomplicated terminology and information directly translates to lost time, frustration and even gives users an impression that they don’t have the ability to use the system, when in reality it is the system that is over complicated. Since IVRs are sequential and not interactive, simplicity is key.
  3. Accuracy and Clarity
    A single bad term may be the reason that a menu option is not selected. It is therefore essential to be very explicit and to avoid any ambiguity. User testing helps to validate this.
  4. Consistency
    A uniform vocabulary will minimize confusion and ensure consistency throughout the application, which enhances the caller’s mental model of the system.
  5. Standardization
    Jargon is a common error, because no additional explanations can be accessible through a simple ‘more information’ link like we see on the Web.
  6. Navigation and number of menu options
    Because our short-term memory is very volatile, callers very quickly forget what they hear. In the case of voice interfaces our active memory tends to be limited to maximum 5 items (Cowan 2001).
Our advice
Terminology is the most difficult criteria to put into practice since language invites multiple interpretations. That is why it is important to conduct an analysis of the vocabulary being used by the callers, as well as usability tests to measure the level of attention required to efficiently use the menu options.

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