The Black Art of Voice Menu Design

Press 1 for my dog. Press 2 for my cat. Press 3 if you are still listening.

I hate voice menus. I can’t really say this enough. I hate voice menus. They drive me crazy. I can never remember what option I want. I can’t be sure that the option I chose is the one I really want. I don’t know if I should press 1 or 2 or 3. Or if I should simply say “My laptop has a pick-axe through the screen”, or something simpler — like “Operator”, or “Elephant”.

But the reality is that getting a phone call to the right person is essential for effective customer service. You want your customers to be able to speak to someone who can help them solve their problems as quickly as possible. You want to make sure the right skills and abilities are available to your customers as quickly as is required.

In some cases, it may be best to have a receptionist or operator direct the calls to the right person. For larger businesses, this provides the opportunity to deliver even better customer service. AAMI prides themselves on the fact that a human receptionist answers every call.

But for smaller businesses, the thought of having a staff member to simply answer the phones is a cost that can be hard to justify — particularly in the current economic climate.

So how do you design menus that don’t frustrate customers? These seven tips will help you stay ahead of the curve.

1. Pick a voice consistent with your brand image

Work out how you would like to speak to your customers. Look at what words you use in conversations with your customers. How do you say hello? How do you introduce your business? You want your customers to have the same experience, as they have face to face, or when they are talking to an agent.

Currently, we say something like:

“Hi. Thanks for calling Real World.”

In addition, we selected a vibrant, happy, professional female voice that is consistent with our brand image.

2. Keep your script short

The less words the better; and only communicate essential information.

“Hi. Thanks for calling Real World. We record our calls to make sure you get great customer service.”

3. Work out what your customers want

Put the options they need the most first. And always lead with the description and then the numeric option.

“For a sales enquiry, press 1. For a support issue, press 2.”

When people listen to a menu, they only hear the important words. If they don’t know what option to pick, they are listening for the text and not the number.

4. No more than 5 options. And less if you can.

Don’t offer more than 5 choices in a menu. And don’t go more than 3 menus deep. At most. The less choice, the better.

5. Provide a way out

Always give an option to speak to a human. Sometimes people just don’t know what they want; and a human can get them there. Make sure that dialling 0 will take you through to someone that can direct their call, even if you don’t explicitly state that option.

6. Avoid jargon

You know your industry inside out, but your customers may not. If you use a lot of industry jargon, you make it more difficult for your customers to find what they need quickly.

Of course, sometimes a bit of jargon is necessary. Like this script we made for Talk Like a Pirate Day.

7. Get help

If you aren’t sure what to write or how to write it, get help from a professional. At Real World, we have people who help write scripts for phone menus all day and can help you get the right words in the right order.

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