Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to re-examine the important question of what is wrong with interactive voice response (IVR) system service by expanding a spatially informed conceptualisation of virtual navigation which recognises the experience of movement within and through space. Design/methodology/approach – First, previous research on IVR systems is reviewed to highlight key themes to a service audience. Second, the metaphorical aspects of language used by the popular and trade press to describe IVR systems is examined. Usability and design issues are identified from previous research as a basis from reinterpreting them from a spatial perspective of navigation. Findings – Both figurative and conceptual spatial metaphors are used to describe the IVR system as an enclosed physical space, within which customers enter, feel stuck, get lost, or try to escape from. The usability issues of human memory, linearity, and feedback, can be reinterpreted from a spatial perspective as a basis for explaining confusion and frustration with IVR systems. Research limitations/implications – Since the paper is conceptual, further research is needed to empirically investigate different types and features of IVR systems. The possible influence of age and culture upon the spatial nature of experience is especially interesting topics for future study. Practical implications – The paper identifies the absence of space as an inherent limitation of IVR systems. It subsequently recommends that firms should provide spatial resources to support customer use of IVR systems, which is supported by the recent emergence of visual IVR. Originality/value – The paper introduces the broader literature on IVR systems to the service field as a basis for raising awareness about this ubiquitous technological component of telephone-based service delivery. It applies and develops a highly abstract conceptual perspective to examine and interpret the representation and experience of IVR systems, as a basis for explaining the confusion, frustration, and dislike of them.