Archive for August, 2011

10 Rules of Auto-Attendants (Part 10)

Here we are at the final post in this series of “10 Rules of Aut0-Attendants”…

But just because this is the last rule, doesn’t mean there aren’t others. If you’ll listen, you’ll probably come up with some more additions on your own. If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

This rule applies almost more to On-Hold messages than to Auto-Attendants. Both of these areas of phone messaging need to focused, concise, and clear.

Without further ado…Melanie Polkosky’s 10th Rule of Auto-Attendant design(From “The Hooptedoodle of Phone“):

10. Try to leave out the part that users tend to ignore: Think of what you ignore when you’re talking on the phone: long, extended stories that meander around, spiraling off into subplots and minor characters, taking up your precious time. What the speaker is doing is perpetrating a monologue where a dialogue was supposed to exist. I’ll bet your mind wanders through most of it.
And, like Leonard, my most important rule sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

If users will ignore it, there is no sense in having it in there. You just need to determine which parts they will ignore!

It’s easy really…callers ignore what isn’t relevant or helpful to their goal.

Sometimes businesses want to fill up the messaging with things that the business cares about, rather than what the caller cares about.

If your messaging doesn’t pass the “so what?” test, you probably need to have it re-written.

If it sounds like every other company out there, it probably needs to be rewritten.

Try delighting your callers instead!

It’s been fun sharing these 10 points with you. Many thanks to Melanie Polkosky.

If you want to learn more about your Caller Experience, visit


10 Rules of Auto-Attendants (Part 9)

There are times when your Auto-Attendant or Integrated Voice Response (IVR) system simply isn’t going to provide what your caller wants.

Those times are one reason you have live agents, and you shouldn’t make it difficult for callers to find them.

And this brings us to Rule #9 of Melanie Polkosky’sThe Hooptedoodle of Phone“ article:

9. Don’t go into detail explaining why you can’t do what the user wants: These details, provided in the impersonal context of an IVR, only reinforce the perception of poor customer service. If you want to retain customers, then give them what they want, quickly and without fanfare. If you can’t accommodate a customer request, then the most appropriate response is apology and restitution.

Simple. If you can’t deliver it with your automated system, don’t spend time explaining why.
Either fix it so you can provide that, or gracefully hand callers off to a live person that can handle their request.

Nobody likes a whiner. Don’t let your Aut0-Attendant whine!


10 Rules of Auto-Attendants (Part 8)

This post is guaranteed to be legalese-free!

Over and over we call companies that have filled their Aut0-Attendant messages with legal disclaimers and notices. It creates a very skeptical caller, and it frustrates the true purpose of the Aut0-Attendant. Which is to quickly and efficiently route your call to the proper destination.

But like the old saying goes “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.”

Once again, I give you Melanie Polkosky and her 8th Rule of Auto-Attendants (From “The Hooptedoodle of Phone“):

8. Avoid legal explanations: True, legalese serves a protective function, but it also characterizes an organization in a generally unflattering light.

The most common reason we hear that companies include legal jargon is because they don’t know if they have to or not!

Please find out.

In some situations, the requirement to include the legal disclaimer is based on the length of the message.

Yes, it may depend on your state. Yes, it probably depends on what legal statement you are discussing. But there are resources for finding this out, and not just having to default to include it.

Don’t believe that you have to include a legal disclaimer just because that’s what you’ve always heard on other phone systems. There is no rule that your Auto-Attendant has to sound like every other company.

Consider being a refreshing difference!


10 Rules of Auto-Attendants (Part 7)

Using technical jargon is one of the easiest ways for a business to get tripped up in any of their marking or customer communications. Technical jargon…insider lingo…industry acronyms…it all comes from what I call “The Curse of Knowledge”.

Because you’re immersed in your business, jargon, lingo, and acronyms all come natural to you. They simply “make sense”!

And yes, it happens to me all the time as well. (Doesn’t everyone know what an IVR is?)

And using jargon, lingo, and acronyms in your Auto-Attendant is certainly not a good practice.

In her recent article  “The Hooptedoodle of Phone“, Melanie Polkosky puts it this way in her 7th Rule:

7. Use technical jargon—marketing patois—sparingly or not at all: Once you use some fancy terms simply because they appeared in a marketing brochure in 1996, you won’t be able to stop. It’s a form of self-congratulation on your effectiveness. A company’s usage of a slick, new term does not imply customer comprehension of it.

Just think if the Department of Transportation used jargon or their marketing speak on interstate roadsigns!

“Special Event ahead, expect higher than normal AADT”

“Do not drive on the SBL”

“Caution: DDE Work Ahead”

“K-118 1 Mile”

Telephone communications especially have low bandwidth to deliver your message, and unlike reading an ad, callers have to continue at the pace you set for them. You want to make the communication clear and precise.

The best way to eliminate jargon, lingo, and acronyms from your Auto-Attendant (and your marketing) is to have someone outside your industry review it for clarity.

Does it make sense? Do they understand it? Is it clear to an average caller?

If not, clarify and revise it until it’s clear, simple, and understandable.

Your callers will be delighted!

10 Rules of Auto-Attendants (Part 6)

In order to read this blog post, please choose from the following options:

To read straight through, press 1.

To skim, press 2

To jump to the end to find out why in the world I would write this way, press 3, or just keep reading.

In keeping with designing Auto-Attendants to be as invisible as possible, and as quick and easy to navigate, you do not need to tell the caller what they already expect from your system.

Melanie Polkosky puts it this way in her 6th point (From “The Hooptedoodle of Phone“):

6. Never use the phrases “in order to” or “choose from the following options”: These phrases are the mark of a writer who doesn’t understand his medium (spoken communication) or lacks imagination. Such phrases are more appropriately placed in written academic papers, legal documentation, medical reports, and other writings of that ilk.

As soon as a caller realizes they’ve reached an Auto-Attendant (which happens approximately .5 seconds into the call!), they already know there will be “following options” from which to choose. That’s a given. They’ll be ready without you having to get them on their mark!

“In order to route your call most effectively…” How many callers are expecting the system to give them the long route to their telephone destination? This tells the caller “If you cooperate with what we want you to do, we’ll reward you by sending you nicely to the place you ask. But if you don’t cooperate, we’ll be sure to send you places you didn’t want to go, with no options to return.”

“In order to make your Auto-Attendant experience better, remove this phrase at once.”

Instead, simply say the option:
“For sales, press 1”. Or in the emerging voice aware IVR: “Tell me where you would like to go.”

There. Now your callers will like you better!



10 Rules of Automated Attendants (Part 5)

One of the first things to look at in an Auto-Attendant design is eliminating branches. The more branches there have to be, the more likely you will be frustrating your caller.

We recently completed an Auto-Attendant redesign for a car dealership, and used this very technique.

Callers were given the choice of what car franchise they were calling, then whether they wanted Sales or Service, and when they selected Sales, were then given the choice of new or used car sales.

Only problem was, both of those final selections rang the exact…same…phones! So having the caller select whether they wanted New or Used was a complete waste of the customer’s time and mental energy! We re-programmed the system to simply ring the Sales group whenever someone selected Sales from the menu.

This uncovery trimmed the Aut0-Attendant flow from 3 branches to just 2. A much more simple and quick experience for the callers!

Melanie Polkosky talks about unneccessary “turns” (or branching) in her article The Hooptedoodle of Phone. Here’s Rule #5:

5. Keep your turns under control: The number of turns is usually inversely proportional to usability. If an interaction requires more than about four turns to get someone where they’re going, then it becomes increasingly likely the user will seek a shorter or alternate path.

We notice two payoffs in following this advice:

1. Your customers will be less frustrated by the time they reach a live person.

2. They will be less likely to “zero out”…simply give up and find an operator…which means your operators will some releif in their workload.

And aren’t those two outcomes really the goal of an Auto-Attendant in the first place?

10 Rules of Automated Attendants (Part 4 of 10)

When it comes to writing for Aut0-Attendants, there’s a lot that can be learned from rules of writing in general. Rules of good writing shouldn’t be simply thrown out the door just because the application is to fit inside the constrains of a phone system.

Melanie Polkosky recast Elmore Leonard’s 10 Tips for Writing advice for her article for Speech Technology Magazine. Here is Melanie’s 4th point(From “The Hooptedoodle of Phone“):

4. Never use multiple words and phrases when fewer will suffice: As Leonard suggests, overly verbose language usage is the designer “now exposing himself in earnest.” When a designer excessively sprinkles his words, he risks being invasive, overbearing, and full of himself. The only people who think an IVR should say much of anything at all are the people behind it; the extent to which they lack self-control determines whether they will be the only ones willing to participate in the exchange.

It’s always harder to communicate what you want to tell your callers, in the least amount of words that will still be effective.

Anyone can ramble on, but to be able to choose each word carefully, for the power it will bring, and the clarity it will add, takes a lot of skill, focus, and understanding of the telephone medium.

The Aut0-Attendant should be almost invisible to the caller…so they don’t even have to think about it. It just offers them what they need, in a way they can use it, so they can accomplish what they want to in the easiest way possible.

And, in the interest of fewer words, I’ll leave you with that!