IVR Call Flow Basics

What It Is

An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system call flow identifies all the resources available to callers, such as recorded announcements, access to self–service transactions, or live support. It also defines the specific and default actions that be will performed for each option selected.

Why It's Important

A call flow is a road map to how callers will be served from beginning to end. A good call flow design provides optimum service and the best customer experience. It is a prerequisite for planning and implementing an IVR service for a contact center. 

Typical IVR Call Flow 

An IVR call flow typically has the following interactions:

  1. The IVR answers an incoming call.
  2. The IVR plays a welcome message and asks the caller to select from a menu of available options. If the IVR supports multiple languages, a language menu will be offered before the main menu.
  3. The caller selects an option, either by pressing a key or voicing a response. The selection may direct the caller to additional sub–menus for more choices.
  4. If the caller enters a valid selection that does not require the help of a trained specialist, the IVR plays a message associated with that selection.
  5. If the caller selects an option that requires the support of a trained specialist, the IVR will direct the caller to the specialist, who will provide the caller with the requested information and ends the call.  During non–business hours, speaking to a trained specialist is generally not offered as a menu option. If there is a special need to provide support in case of an emergency during non–business hours, a message with specific instructions on how to obtain assistance will be provided as part of the menu.
  6. If the caller fails to make a selection or enters an invalid selection, the IVR plays a message  that the entry is invalid and asks the caller to reenter his/her selection. A call flow generally has built–in default provisions to ensure the caller is offered some form of assistance if there is no entry or if the entry is invalid after the second attempt.
  7. On the language menu, the default for a no entry or invalid entry is usually the English option; for the main menu or sub menus, during normal business hours, the default is usually routing the call to a trained specialist or, in the case of sub menus, routing the caller back to the main menu. During non–business hours, the default for the main menu or sub menus may be a recorded message telling the caller to call back during business hours. 

Before You Get Started

Here are a few things to decide before developing an IVR call flow:

Hours of coverage

The services or information your contact center provides to callers during business hours (when trained specialists are available) can be very different from what is provided after business hours (when trained specialists are not available). Different menus will be required for normal business hours and non–business hours so you can address the different services available.

Supported languages

English and non–English callers may request different services and information. A mere translation may not be sufficient and various menu options may have to be offered to address these needs.  

Unscheduled event or emergency support

If your center needs to respond to unscheduled events or emergencies periodically, you will need to build options into your call flow that can be activated to quickly respond. Activating "hidden" menu options is a lot quicker than building a new call flow from scratch.

Caller topics

You'll need to find out what callers are calling for. The topics will form the basis for your call flow and menu/sub–menu structure.

Customer service strategy

Decide what is your ultimate customer service goal. Are you trying to save money or to provide the best customer experience? Nothing frustrates callers more than a menu designed to discourage them from reaching a trained specialist without offering an adequate automated alternative. Note: Many IVR platforms include the capability to conduct customer satisfaction surveys.

IVR Call Flow Best Practices 

The following are eight best practices for IVR call flow design:

  • Let the callers get to the most requested topics at the beginning so they can access them quickly and easily. 
  • Don’t try to cover too many topics, or offer too many options, on the menu. Keep things simple to avoid confusing and frustrating the callers.
  • Unless the IVR application is designed for self–service only, offer callers the option to talk to a trained specialist during normal business hours early in the process so they don’t become frustrated and hang up.
  • Keep menu prompts short and concise and use the same language callers use. Avoid using industry slang callers may not understand.
  • Periodically offer options to return to the main menu or repeat a prompt to make it easier for callers to navigate the IVR.
  • Include default options for no entry or invalid entries when possible.
  • Craft simple messages. For each language supported, use the same professional voice talent throughout the menus.
  • Conduct extensive user testing before going live. Continue periodic testing to fine tune the call flow to enhance performance.
  • Review IVR usage data to ensure that most frequently used topics are offered first.


Content Lead: Tonya Beres
Page Reviewed/Updated: November 16, 2012

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