IVRs were invented in the 1960s as a way for businesses to automate the previously manual process of routing calls to the relevant departments. With the introduction of touch-tone dialling, the integration of IVRs into businesses ramped up in the 70s and 80s and then became prolific in the 90s.

But in truth, IVR technology has all but stagnated in its development since then and the core functionality remains notoriously awkward and manual, for both callers and call handlers. We’ve all been on the end of an IVR call, so it’s not surprising to hear that drop off rates can be as high as 50%.

How many times have we all endured an IVR only to get to the end with no option that suits our needs? By the time the generic voice, usually in received pronunciation, starts churning out Press 1 for… we’ve already had enough. The result? Phones are often slammed down in frustration. In fact, the IVR was voted the most annoying invention of all time in 2012. Customers are, at this point, switching off from a brand, meaning businesses could really be missing out.

The IVR problem

Despite the issues that callers and businesses have with IVRs, they have long been the most efficient way of routing customers to their desired location.

We are all too aware in this industry that IVRs are more of a necessary evil, rather than the pinnacle of customer experience. Callers usually want answers quickly, or they’re ready to buy. They don’t want lengthy wait times or endless options to pick from (which they may forget). And, when they finally get to speak to a human, they don’t want to repeat their enquiry all over again.

While digital marketing teams are constantly striving to optimise the online journey for customers and make this as seamless as possible, the journey is broken by an IVR process that now feels antiquated. From a customer service perspective, IVRs rarely contribute to ensuring a brand retains, or even enhances, its reputation across all channels.

Catering to expectations

As well as seamless journeys, consumers today expect personalised experiences too. We expect Netflix to recommend the next binge-worthy series we’ll want to consume based on our previous viewing habits, or for Spotify to tell us what our next favourite album will be. We want UberEats to remember our old orders so we can repeat them, and we crave the convenience of Amazon Prime.

Stretching across eCommerce, entertainment apps, social media and email, personalised digital experiences are delivered to consumers every day. Yet the act of making a phone calls has, until now, been a process untouched by the possibilities that personalisation offers.

The value of phone call personalisation

Everyone in the business of phone calls knows how valuable they can be.

They tend to have a much higher conversion rate than clicks – between 30% and 50%.

As a comparison, the average conversion rate for clicks is 2.35%. Being able to capitalise on this conversion rate and personalise the phone call experience has huge potential for those organisations who rely on inbound phone call revenue. And this goes far beyond your bank knowing your name when you call them.

If brands can use data collated from a caller’s online journey, for example, the IVR can be completely bypassed. Let’s say the caller has been looking at holidays to Florida on a travel website, their subsequent call to the contact centre can be routed to the best call handler for the job – immediately speaking to the Florida expert and not having to ‘Press 1’ for anything.


The results of removing the IVR ‘barrier’ are impressive.

For example, Virgin Holidays removed their short IVR and has seen a 48% increase in call-to-sale conversions. For a business that takes location-specific knowledge for its call handlers seriously (they even send call handlers to their specialist locations for first-hand experience) this has been a big deal.

As for that generic ‘received pronunciation’ IVR, callers can now be linked to an agent with the same accent as them, for an even greater level of personalisation based on where they are calling from.

It may seem like a small barrier, but when customers are ready to buy, the last thing you need is an unnecessary hurdle. Ensuring the customer journey is as smooth and welcoming as possible, and making the phone call feel as personal as possible, can reap big rewards.

RIP IVRs. We can’t say any of us will miss you.

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