Is any contact center feature that is more under appreciated than interactive voice response (IVR)? This solution has tremendous value for companies in just about every industry, yet many firms do not take the steps needed to maximize their utility.

This is at least partially due to the fact that IVR has some unfortunate connotations – most notably, frustrating support calls. In a 2012 survey, for example, Natterbox found that 63 percent of consumers complained about support calls that did not include the option to speak to an operator. The fact of the matter is that IVR has evolved significantly in recent years, and there’s no reason to allow these negative associations to dictate how companies use these tools today. With the right IVR solution and, critically, the right strategy, IVR can prove an invaluable contact center asset.

Recently, online software comparison tool Software Advice surveyed 50 customer service-oriented companies from the Fortune 500 to determine how these industry leaders utilize IVR. The study revealed many of the best practices needed for optimized IVR performance.

1. Simplicity triumphs
One of the most significant findings from the survey was the importance of simplicity when designing an IVR solution. An overly complex approach will confuse or frustrate callers, whereas a simplified offering will make the experience efficient and satisfying.

Bruce Belfiore, CEO and senior research executive with a major call center benchmarking firm, explained that IVR solutions should not be more than three menus deep, and there should be no more than five options across the top menu. Among all of the firms surveyed, only 16 percent had six or more options here, and the majority had four or fewer.

Furthermore, the survey demonstrated that it is better to focus on clear-cut, straightforward questions than a more open-ended approach. While asking open-ended questions may seem like the best way to address customers’ specific issues, this can lead to a time-consuming and roundabout experience. That is why virtually all of the companies surveyed offered a self-service option in either the first or second menu.

2. Speed matters
Simplicity will beget speed, but it’s also important to cut down on call times in other ways. After all, First Call Resolution is one of the strongest predictors of customer satisfaction, as the survey noted. Speeding up IVR interaction in any way can therefore yield significant benefits.

Software Advice report recommends keeping all menu options and introductions to eight seconds or less. Any longer and callers will likely begin to feel anxious, and irritated.

3. Enable control
Last, but not least, it’s critical for IVR solutions to give customers a high degree of control. One of the problems that some individuals have with IVR is that they feel trapped, but companies can counter this issue by providing the option to speak to a agent early on in the call. According to the survey, 63 percent of companies offered this choice by the third menu, and only 22 percent provided an option to interact with an agent in the first menu.

Ultimately, none of these recommendations are written in stone. But by taking this guidance into account and adapting it to suit your company’s specific demographics and customer service goals, your can make IVR a powerful asset in your contact center.