There are various ways that callers may need to be segmented. Some examples:
  • High-value vs. lower-value banking clients
  • Members vs. providers for health insurance
  • New and returning customers
  • Callers who need to sign in and those who don't
  • What language to use (see Language Selection for this one)

The best way to segment callers is often to give them different phone numbers
Ideally you simply give your different groups different numbers to call, and nobody has to go through an additional question to divide them up. This is not always possible, and sometimes can lead to problems where one number provides preferential treatment.

Consider the case where VIP customers get a different phone number. VIP status is determined by recent purchases. A customer who achieved VIP status and got the number, but then reverts back to non-VIP buying patterns may continue to call that number. In this type of situation, the number itself should not be the sole entry point. Another method should be employed as well as a double-check.

Use passive methods to segment callers
In addition to using a different phone number/DNIS, ANI can be used to segment as well. If you can identify the caller by ANI enough to skip the segmentation question, then do it. Note, you don't necessarily need to know exactly who's on the phone. Consider the member/provider situation for health insurance. There may be multiple doctors in an office that call you, and it doesn't matter which one it is as much as that it's a doctor's office.

Use authentication to segment callers
If ANI and DNIS do not provide sufficient data for the desired level of segmentation, it may be necessary to get callers to identify themselves through an authentication process. Once a caller has been identified and authenticated, the application should have all the information required for effective segmentation.

When authentication will aid segmentation, a common design issue for applications with main menus is whether to authenticate before or after the main menu. We know of no published research, but logical analysis suggests that if new customers might call the number, then authentication should probably follow the main menu so the authentication process does not block or slow down new customers from getting to options that do not require authentication (or the authentication process should include an easy way for new customers to bypass it).

When using a question for callers to self-segregate, carefully consider each groups' point of view
Sometimes none of the above methods work, and you have to ask a question to get the callers to effectively tell you which group they're in and which treatment they should get. You want to make sure nobody incorrectly selects a group. Back to our health insurance example. Some of the authors worked on exactly such a system, and this question proved to be quite difficult to craft. The problem was the terminology. The insurance company thought of the groups as "members" and "providers." When a choice of these two items was presented, providers always chose the right one, but members did not. Consider the case of a mother calling about a claim for her daughter. The mother is the one employed/insured, and saw herself as providing the insurance for her daughter.

After several iterations, the design team finally settled on "health care professional." The goal is to have labels such that each group knows exactly which one applies to them.

Another example was a cruise service line. Two totally different call centers handled sales and service calls, so the IVR needed to correctly segregate the calls before transferring. Wrinkle number one is that customers have the ability to put a cruise on hold for a short period of time without paying anything right away. Wrinkle number two is that customers can make payments. So calls fell into one of four categories: brand new inquiries, on hold but not paid for, partially paid for, and completely paid for. The first two are considered sales calls, and the last two service calls.

The designer went through several iterations of a prompt for this scenario, trying to get each group to the right place. After each change, agents would track how many calls were misrouted. The following is what finally worked. Note that it probably violates several other guidelines, but at the end of the day, what's important is that it works.
  • I need to know where you are in the booking process. If it’s either partially or totally paid for, say it’s already booked. If you’ve put it on hold without giving us any payment information yet, say it’s on hold. Or say book a new cruise.

Don't have silence or a timeout be a "choice" to segregate callers
Few things are more annoying in life than having to sit around and wait, and that applies to a few seconds in an IVR as well. Consider this prompt.

  • If you are calling from a doctor's office, say Health Care Professional, otherwise, stay on the line.

For caller's not from a doctor's office, their "action" is to do absolutely nothing and wait, which will not make them happy. The other downside to this approach is that there is no opportunity for a no input reprompt if somebody isn't sure what to do. It's assumed they belong in the waiting group and the call goes forward. For that matter, what do you do with a no match? Do you assume that since they're trying to say something they're in the "say something" group? Do you give them both options? Is the second option explicit or a "do nothing" again? Much better to simply give all or both groups labels and let callers pick what they need.