Make it simple, straightforward, and short
There are times when the IVR has to relay information to the caller beyond simply asking questions. For callers to comprehend this information, it must be simple and short. Long, complex paragraphs get tuned out or at best, partially heard.

It's not always necessary to convey every detail to the caller. Hit the high points and consider the impact of leaving out the "fine print." An example. For a travel application, the business wants to convey the fees for booking offline so they know they're coming when they talk to the agent. The fee is only charged for the first three passengers. There are a few ways to handle this:

  • Give every caller all the details.
  • Prompt for number of passengers first to see if the max is applicable.
  • State the fee, ignore the part about the max, and in the small likelihood that this caller is booking for more than three people, they'll be pleasantly surprised to find the total fee lower than what the IVR said.

This is a definite case of the 80/20 rule. Very few people need that extra piece of information, so leave it off. It doesn't hurt anything to leave it off, and in fact, hurts to put it in. The details become too much. It's very easy to re-read and skim written material. It's much more complex to control the information coming in from an IVR.

Offer "repeat" explicitly for long or complex information
Sometimes it's just impossible to make the information short and sweet. In these situations, explicitly offer the caller a way to hear it again. Even if the repeat option is available universally, offer it explicitly in these situations where it's likely to be needed. As an added bonus, it can reinforce the existence of the command.

Let the caller control the level of explanation
If the IVR is giving the caller an explanation of something that is somewhat involved, and the users are split between people who need all of this and people who might not, let them control how much they hear. Give a short and sweet version and ask if they need to hear more details.

Break large amounts of data into chunks
Don't let the IVR drone out or callers will tune out. Find some way to break it into pieces with caller interaction in the middle. The above technique of asking if they need more detail is one way. Another is to play the information common across caller groups first, then ask a question that tells you which part to play next.

Pay special attention to your recordings
The recordings for playback have different considerations than recordings for question prompts. See the section on prosody in Chapter 7 on recordings.

When legal makes you do it

These techniques can also be helpful in dealing with things legal makes you play. The first rule of legal messaging is to do everything in your power to not have to play any of it at all. From a caller's perspective, it's usually just wasted time. If it is critical for the enterprise to play a legal message, then keep it as concise as possible (which can be a challenge when lawyers are involved), and try to keep it from interfering with the task flow.

Also see Chapter 3, Prompt Writing Considerations, and specifically, the section on Syntactic Considerations, for more information on writing playback prompts.