How Modern Sales Teams Can Use IVR to Maximize Deal Flows

Sales reps are at their best when they can chat with a prospect one-on-one about their product. 

But not every phone call makes it this far. Prospects can be left on hold or, worse, transferred from department to department until… they give up and go to a competitor. 

At Close, we recently launched our new Interactive Voice Response (IVR) feature to help businesses remove this final hurdle to converting prospects into customers. IVR technology is a quick and easy way to route inbound calls and get them to the right sales reps—at the right time. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about IVR, how it can maximize your sales pipeline, and how Close's IVR can help. 

Let's get started. 👇

What is IVR? 

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated system that diverts incoming phone calls using prompts and preset rules. Callers can interact with pre-recorded messages and use speech or their phone keypad to be routed to the right person within a company without wading through different departments and gatekeepers. 

How to Reap the Rewards and Avoid the Pitfalls of Using IVR 

IVR isn't a new technology. I'm sure we have all used it at one point or another to talk to someone at our electricity company or report an issue to our bank. 

So many companies use IVR because it is simple—customers are routed to the right people quickly, and company support has more time to answer complex issues and solve problems. 

Here's a basic rundown of how it works: 

9.05am: A customer calls Close, hoping to sort out an issue with a software integration. They are met with our IVR system and given a handful of menu options to choose from.

9:06am: Our customer listens to each of the menu options to figure out which matches up with their software integration question. They pick option six, and say "six" into their phone.

9:07am: Our IVR system uses built-in speech recognition software to listen to the customer's replies and move them through other menu options to narrow down their query.

9:08am: Using preset rules and responses, the IVR system recognizes the caller needs to talk to someone on our support team with engineering expertise, so it routes their call to their department.

Now, we aren't a huge company… but we aren't small either. Several departments specialize in different parts of Close's CRM software. To get to the right person, this customer would have had to describe their problem to an initial team member, and then probably repeat themselves to someone else, until they got through to engineering support. 

With IVR, everything is automated until the last step. Until a human steps in. And when they do, they will already know what the problem is thanks to prompts handed over by IVR. 

The above example clearly shows the benefits of using IVR: 

⏳ It's a time (and money) saver. Humans are eliminated from the early stages of customer phone calls. This isn't a bad thing, as these stages usually have the same process: find out what the customer needs and connect them to the right people. Automating this part frees up time for the humans on your team to focus on more complex customer problems that can't be solved with IVR. 

❌ No waiting. The customer doesn't have to wait on hold for minutes (or hours) to start moving through the phone queue. IVR can narrow down their question or issue, and may even be able to solve it without human intervention. A common example of this is billing, where a customer calls to pay an overdue account invoice. IVR (depending on your operating system) can take the customer's card details and clear their balance without talking to someone in the finance department.

But (as with most tech) IVR has some drawbacks. 

At the end of the day, IVR is an automated robot answering customer calls. It can’t show empathy or respond to frustrations. It simply operates according to preset prompts and rules. This can really rub customers the wrong way and, by the time they are routed to a human on your team, tempers can be… high. 😬

Additional IVR drawbacks are: 

  • Failure to live up to expectations. IVRs can be good on paper, and not so good in practice–if they’re not set up properly. As Zendesk reports, over 40 percent of customers say repeating themselves is the most frustrating part of bad customer service. Unfortunately, this is one common pitfall when an IVR isn't set up correctly or with the customer in mind. Taking card payments automatically is helpful, but if an IVR cannot recognize a customer's answers and asks them to repeat themselves, it can be a disaster (speaking from personal experience 🙃). 
  • Making customer interactions too complicated. The beauty of IVRs is they narrow down customer queries and route them to the right people. But some IVRs are (extremely) complicated, and companies ask customers to choose multiple menu options before they can speak to someone. This isn't just confusing—it's also frustrating.

So, IVRs… Good or bad? 🤔

Here's our take. 

IVRs can never replace the human touch your customers need, especially if their problem or question is complex. But for getting the ball rolling and not leaving customers on hold while they wait for the right human—it's a great support assistant. 

Let's take a look at how IVR can be used by sales teams to maximize deal flows. 

Does Your Sales Team Actually Need an Interactive Voice Response System?

Modern SMBs need a complete business phone solution to manage their incoming calls. 

They need to route the caller to the right team or people. And they also need to prioritize urgent calls and maximize sales opportunities in the pipeline. 

This is IVR in a nutshell. Your org might need an IVR if your: 

  • Admin team wants a simple way to manage inbound calls and route them to the right people. Think leads vs. current customers, English speaking vs Spanish speaking support or inbound sales calls vs prospective customers. 
  • Management team wants to customize the ring order for its team for specific phone numbers.
  • Sales leaders want to ensure incoming calls are relevant to their department.
  • Sales reps want to get calls from leads where they own the deal and its status is relevant to their team (think prospect → customer).

It's also important to recognize when an IVR is not a good fit for a team. While IVR systems can eliminate the need for switchboards and complicated customer routing, smaller sales teams may not be at the stage where this tech is necessary. 

If you think an IVR system will help your team close more deals, here's how to set one up. 

How to Set Up an IVR System that Saves You Time Without Annoying Your Customers

There's a huge misconception around IVR systems. 

Many people think customers are frustrated with IVRs because they don't want to use a machine to answer questions. The reality is that most customers are happy with automated systems like IVRs, but they get frustrated with bad IVRs. Organizations fumble the ball when they implement the tech wrong, leading to a poor customer experience. 

Think about it: 

  • Some IVRs force callers to enter unnecessary information without knowing the true context of their call.
  • IVRs can also be loaded with (let's be honest) borderline spam. If a customer calls for help, the last thing they want to hear about is a company's opening hours or random marketing messages. Not only does this cause delays, but it also doesn't get to the bottom of why the customer called in the first place.
  • Some companies don't include an option for customers to speak to a human in their IVR menu options. This makes the customer feel like they’re not in control of their choices and must battle to get what they called for—a conversation with a human. 

You can avoid these frustrations by setting up an IVR system that serves your customers. Here's a quick five-step process: 

1. Think About What You Want the IVR to Achieve 

An IVR system is the first thing your customers will hear when they call your company, so it’s important to treat it like the first impression that it is. The main goal the system should be simple—to help every customer get an answer. 

Try not to get too bogged down in what the IVR will look like on your end. Instead, focus on customers' experience with your system when they call. It's way too easy for IVRs to turn into complex mazes, where customers must jump through hoops to correctly route their call. 

On the other hand, a well-designed IVR system can increase customer satisfaction and help your sales team discuss more opportunities and leads. It all comes down to how simple it is for these opportunities to flow through the automation. 

2. Set Up Sensible Menu Options and Flows 

Next, map out your menus and consider how the IVR should route calls based on needs and opportunities. 

Most IVR menus will follow a similar strategy: 

  • Single flow. Callers are given one menu to help route their call. For example, a marketing campaign might include a tracking number for potential prospects to call. When dialed, the caller is greeted by an IVR menu, which asks if they want option one: sales or option two: support. The caller chooses option one, which triggers a round robin-style call on the sales team's phones. Whoever picks the call up first snags the lead and manually punches data into their CRM from the caller.

  • Multi-flow. This IVR flow is a bit more complex and suited for organizations with more detailed routing needs. For example, a caller may contact a company from another country. The multi-flow IVR will allow them to speak in Spanish or English. The next menu asks if they are an existing customer or not, which will then route them to the final menu of options. 

Here's an example of how a more complex IVR flow may look: 

  • A customer has been using Close as their CRM for six years, and paying for a monthly subscription. 
  • However, a bug in one of their third-party integrations has stopped its data from flowing into Close, and they are threatening to cancel their subscription.
  • The IVR picks up the call and can tag the caller as an existing, high-MRR customer.
  • When the customer chooses to speak to a human in the first menu option, the team member on the other end can quickly pull up their profile on the Close CRM thanks to the IVR prompt. 
  • The team member has access to the customer's information and can use it to personalize the conversation, solve the customer’s issue, and save our relationship with them. 

In cases like this, the IVR is just a vessel to get the customer to the right person as fast as possible. However, it still helps the team get up to speed quickly to try and create a smooth and productive customer interaction. 

3. Keep Menu Options Short and Sweet

Don't make a caller wade through several menus or lengthy options. 

Aim to limit your main menu options to 30 seconds so customers can quickly decide whether the IVR system can handle their call or if they need a human to help. 

It's also always good practice to give customers with a live agent option on your first menu. While IVRs essentially act as a gatekeeper for your team, a frustrated customer who rings to talk to a human will be even more frustrated if they have to weave through an IVR maze before they are connected to one. 

4. Make IVR an Extension of Your Sales Team

The best way to implement an IVR tool is to consider it an automated arm of your sales team—not a separate entity. 

Humanize the first caller interaction with your IVR system by pre-recording messages from real sales reps on your team. This approach will make callers feel your IVR messages sound like sales representatives… because they are from sales representatives. 

Also, think about the message content and what information callers will really benefit from. It's tempting to load IVR messages with information about a new product release, but remember, the caller rang to get a query or problem solved.

Save the marketing messages for another time. 

5. Simplify Your IVR Setup with Close

If you have fallen down the IVR research rabbit hole, you’ve probably encountered providers like Nextiva and RingCentral offering state-of-the-art IVR setups. 

Although these IVR systems have robust features, most sales teams will find everything they need in Close's new IVR integration. We purposely kept our IVR integration simple so it's easy for sales teams to get up and running, and will help your customers from the moment it goes live. Teams will be able to:

  • Set the initial IVR greetings using voice recordings and file uploads
  • Define customer interaction with keypads
  • Set different call routing and default actions

Use Close’s IVR to Turn Inbound Leads into Sales

Close’s CRM was designed specifically for the needs of sales teams, so of course, when we built our IVR, we made sure it was great at pushing leads through this critical stage of the buyer journey.

Here's an example of how an inbound lead can be routed using Close's IVR: 

  • A caller has received targeted marketing information and wants to learn more about a product. The phone number the customer sees on marketing materials includes a 4-digit extension to route them to the sales IVR.
  • Once the caller dials the extension, Close searches the company's database based on two Custom Field combinations. If the caller is marked on the CRM as "potential, engaged, trial," their call will be routed to sales. If they are tagged as a current customer, they will be routed to the success team:

  • If the caller matches any lead/prospect parameters inside Close, the CRM will automatically create an Opportunity inside the sales database. However, if the caller does not match any parameters, a lead is still created and information is stored for future outreach.
  • Finally, the caller is asked preset menu questions. Based on their response, Close's IVR decides the best place to transfer the call to. For example, if the caller is tagged as an Opportunity, they will get transferred to an SDR.

Basically,  every caller is routed based on the information they hand over. This information is then used to automatically create opportunities in Close and track interactions from the customer's first touchpoint. 

As these interactions all happen inside of Close, sales reps can look up past conversations and data in their customer profile and personalize every conversation. 

The result?

Every customer will know they are talking to someone who knows who they are and what products they’re currently using. For your team, it's a smarter way to fill your sales pipeline, focus on winnable opportunities and strike while the iron is hot. 

Final Thoughts: How Your Sales Team Can Work in Tandem With an IVR System

IVR isn't just for support teams. It can be a powerful tool to win over leads when they reach a critical stage in their buying journey. 

However, using IVR to route prospects can be a juggling act. IVR works best if it can solve simple problems but also recognize when a real human needs to jump on the call.  

We know how important the human touch is to close sales deals, especially when opportunities are at the critical decision stage. That's why we built the Close IVR integration to automate the simple stuff and give you a headstart on every potential prospect call. 

When our IVR recognizes a deal is at an opportunity stage, it will get out of the way, fire up the data in their customer profile—and let your team handle the rest!

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