When done right, good IVR routing provides your customers with a better call-in experience, improves your call center metrics, and makes your agents’ lives easier by ensuring they’re getting the callers that are best suited to their expertise. Additionally, it reduces the number of queries going to your agents that could’ve been answered with self-service options.

Here are five key IVR routing strategies you need to know and when you should use each one.

IVR Routing Strategy 1: Menu-Based Routing

Ideal for businesses with multiple departments or services, menu-based call center IVR lets customers choose from a variety of options, putting them in the driver’s seat so they can head straight to their desired destination.

Here’s how it works: a customer calls in and is given a menu of options. They can then choose from these options to dictate which department or service they want to speak with. 

Menu-based routing is very common, and you’ve likely experienced it yourself when calling into a business like your bank or cell phone provider. It sounds kind of like this: “Press 1 to book an appointment. Press 2 to check your balance. Press 3 to make a payment. Press 4 to speak to a representative.”

It’s particularly effective at providing callers with agency and reducing call volume to live agents, since you can include self-service options in your menu that don’t require the caller to speak with an agent. Since most people generally prefer to solve their own queries whenever possible, this is a win-win on both sides.

Using the menu above as an example, if someone’s calling in just to check their balance, you don’t need a live agent to answer that call. Similarly, if they need to make a payment, you can set up a touchtone system to allow them to enter their card information without having to talk to someone. This lets your agents stay free to focus on more complex queries that require a deeper level of understanding and expertise.

Common mistakes with menu-based routing include putting in too many menu layers, including options that are confusing or poorly organized, and not allowing for barge-ins, where clients can make a selection before listening to the whole menu. 

It’s also key to provide an option where clients can quickly speak to a representative, instead of making them navigate a complicated menu just to get to a human. (But this is true for all routing strategies on this list—the best IVR routing configurations are always going to offer easy options for talking to a real person.)

IVR Routing Strategy 2: Skills-Based Routing

Skills-based routing is a method for matching callers with specific needs to reps with the skills and training to meet those needs. 

For instance, if you sell a product that has both hardware and software components, you might have agents who specialize in answering hardware queries as well as agents who specialize in answering software queries.

It’s great for making sure that callers get connected to reps with the right expertise immediately, which can drastically improve FCR (First Call Resolution) rates, as well as customer satisfaction metrics and other important KPIs

When setting up a skills-based routing program, the big thing to be aware of is making sure that you have a strong skills map of your agents and that you’re able to match that to the IVR. 

It may seem obvious, but you don’t want a client to say they need a rep with Skill X and then have them routed to a rep with Skill Y—that’ll just be frustrating for everyone. 

There may be some nuance here, as even within a department, there may be multiple layers of specialties. For instance, if you sell 20 products and have a designated expert for each product, you probably don’t want to make your callers listen to 20 different menu options. In this case, it’s best to have a designated point of contact within the department who can transfer the call to the right person.

It’s also important to make sure you’re regularly updating your IVR system to ensure it’s up-to-date as agents get transferred, new reps are onboarded, and others learn new skills.

IVR Routing Strategy 3: Location and Language-Based Routing

While not always the same thing, location and language-based routing tend to go together, as they’re a way of routing customers to agents who are local to them—or at least have an understanding of their location—and can speak their language.

This method is especially valuable for businesses with multiple locations, or those who serve a wide customer base, and when done well, it can improve customer satisfaction and reduce the number of transfers a customer has to go through. 

It’s also very powerful in customer service and sales settings, as it’s easier to build rapport when you share a common location and/or language.

The main mistakes organizations make with this are having limited language or location options that don’t match what your customers actually need. 

You also need to make sure you keep your databases updated on both the customer and agent side so callers are actually getting transferred to the right person. 

Finally, if you have a high demand for representatives who speak a specific language, make sure you employ enough agents to meet that demand. Even if you offer a customer’s preferred language option, they’re not going to be happy if they have to wait in a long queue to speak to someone.

IVR Routing Strategy 4: Priority-Based Routing

If your business has VIP customers or urgent transactions, priority-based routing could be a good option. 

In this type of system, customer calls are prioritized on predefined criteria, such as their status, the severity of the issue they’re dealing with, or the value of their transaction.

When done well, it’s a great way to make sure important calls get to your best agents quickly. If you have a high-value customer who spends a lot of money with your business, you want to make sure they get taken care of without having to wait on hold. Priority-based routing allows for exactly that.

It’s a solid way to improve customer loyalty and engagement, since your most high-value customers are going to get a top-tier customer experience every time they call in.

To do it correctly, you need to make sure you have an accurate map of who your high-value customers are, plus a good understanding of what criteria should push someone to the front of the line. 

But there is such a thing as too much preferred treatment. A common issue that comes up with this type of IVR routing configuration is devoting too much focus to your VIP customers using priority-based routing and leaving your other customers feeling devalued or frustrated. 

While your high-value customers should get the VIP treatment, you can’t leave the rest of your customers waiting in an endless queue of hold messages. The key to solving this issue is making sure you have a full staff of agents to handle all customer calls, no matter who is calling.

IVR Routing Strategy 5: Caller History-Based Routing

One of the most frustrating things about calling a business is having to explain everything from scratch each time. 

Caller history-based routing lets businesses with high-quality customer databases avoid this by routing callers to agents based on their past calls.

This means that clients can get to the right rep faster and have personalized customer service, which is going to uplevel the overall customer experience big time. 

It also lets you screen for calls that have the potential to blow up into a big issue, allowing you to ensure these calls are getting to your most qualified agents. And finally, it gives your customers a feeling of being listened to, since they don’t have to explain themselves over and over again.

The biggest mistake to avoid with caller history-based routing is having an incomplete or outdated customer database. It’s essential to have customer profiles updated after every interaction a customer has with your company. Your agents should spend time after each call detailing the conversation so their profile can easily be pulled up next time, and they can pick up right where they left off.

You’ll also need to make sure your IVR and customer database can interact well. 

IVR Routing Best Practices

While the exact way to implement an IVR strategy depends on which option you go with, there are a number of IVR routing best practices that any strategy can benefit from:

  • Keep menus short and simple. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to fight a system to get the information you need. Keep your menus as simple as possible—if a child can’t navigate it easily, you’ve got a problem.
  • Provide clear, concise instructions. Similarly, make sure your instructions are clear and concise. If someone isn’t instantly sure what to do, they’ll ask to speak to a rep when they might not actually need to.
  • Offer self-service options, but always allow instant access to a rep. The best IVR systems make it easy to do self-service as needed but always allow for instant access to a rep for situations that are complex or confusing. It’s essential that you make it as easy as possible for people to talk to a rep. Otherwise, by the time they actually do get to talk to an agent, they’ll probably be feeling pretty frustrated.
  • Offer escalation paths. A sure way to get very angry customers talking to your reps is by creating an IVR with no way to escalate serious issues. Don’t make your most upset customers start at the bottom and fight their way through multiple steps to get to a rep. Make it easy for these customers to get to a rep as quickly as possible by having agent access available from your first menu option and letting customers get through to advanced help as needed.
  • Connect your CRM for better routing. If you can, connect your CRM  or call center software to your IVR so you can make smarter, quicker paths for your callers and give your staff information about the caller before they even pick up the phone.
  • Consider Natural Language Processing (NLP) IVR. NLP IVR, where callers can talk to the IVR like they’re talking to a person, is still developing, but when done correctly, it can be very powerful. It could be worthwhile to experiment with this technology and see how your customers respond.

Above all, remember that your IVR should act as a living ecosystem, not a one-and-done process. You should regularly test your IVR routing strategy and get customer feedback on their experience. 

Be sure to analyze customer interactions with your IVR strategy, and work to address pain points or friction they encounter. 

Finally, be sure that your team actually knows what your IVR strategy is and how it’s intended to be used, so they know how to work with it.