This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
An auto-attendant phone system is a voice menu system that transfers callers to the right person or department without going through a telephone operator. This call feature doesn’t completely replace human agents, but automates basic tasks and helps operators focus on more significant customer inquiries. Auto-attendants are among the most useful telephony features for call centers to manage high call traffic and avoid long wait times.
In this article, we’ll define what an auto-attendant phone system is in greater detail and why your business needs it. However, if you want to learn more about business phone providers offering this feature, read our buyer’s guide on the best auto-attendant phone systems. There we compared the top six auto-attendant systems based on their pricing, feature packages, and routing features.
How an Auto-attendant Works
Let us first discuss what is a phone auto-attendant. Fundamentally, an auto-attendant phone system is designed to transfer calls to the appropriate extension. It uses voice prompts that establish a menu flow, guiding callers to the right agent or department.
An auto-attendant only accepts touch-tone dialing, allowing callers to press a specific key and reach the desired extension.
Auto-attendants facilitate various call routing tasks, such as greeting callers, providing directory assistance, and delivering information. These functions—when implemented correctly—help enhance your customers’ calling experience. They’re able to resolve issues faster or get the information they’re looking for on their own.
An auto-attendant is the first point of contact when calling a business. It plays an important role in making a good first impression for your business. For every incoming call, the auto-attendant plays a prerecorded greeting to remind the caller that they have reached the company’s telephone line. The voice prompt starts with, “Thank you for calling …” The auto-attendant also plays hold music during peak call volume while callers are on queue.
Aside from greeting customers, auto-attendants offer an efficient way to relay general information about your business, such as operating hours and holiday announcements. The attendant script may play a reminder that goes, “You have called outside of business hours. You may reach us from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.” This provides callers with an important piece of information without the need to talk to a live receptionist.
Another function of an auto-attendant is to help callers navigate the company directory. Attendants use a dial-by-name directory to allow callers to route themselves to the correct extension by entering the recipient’s name on their phone’s keypad. This feature is convenient for callers who can’t remember an extension and saves time reaching the right person.
Core Features for Auto-attendant Phone Systems
Auto-attendants have different functionalities used simultaneously with a business phone system. They comprise several functions, such as language options, dial-by-name directory, and integrations. These features help callers experience a more efficient and organized call flow from the initial greeting until they reach the correct extension.
Multiple Language Options
Auto-attendants support various language options depending on your chosen provider. Some providers allow you to pick one primary language and up to four secondary languages. When the auto-attendant declares the language prompt, the caller should use the keypad to select the primary language to be used for the rest of the call.
A dial-by-name directory gives callers the ability to route themselves to the right agent or extension by searching for the recipient’s name using their phone’s keypad. This enables callers to type the name of the person they want to reach and go straight to their extension without the need for a live receptionist.
The best business phone systems support extensive third-party integrations with software tools and customer relationship management (CRM). These solutions play an essential role in enhancing customer relations and improving contact center workflow. For example, CRM integrations enable agents to check customer data while the auto-attendant is routing the call, which helps agents be prepared before the caller reaches their extension.
Want to know the different call features in business phone systems? Check out our article on the top VoIP business phone features to learn exactly which communication tool you need for your business.
The Difference Between Auto-attendant & IVR Systems
An auto-attendant and an interactive voice response (IVR) are both phone system features designed to transfer incoming calls to the correct location. The main difference between these two lies in how they execute their call routing functions.
An auto-attendant is a static message whose function is limited to answering, routing, and holding calls. An IVR, on the other hand, is an advanced version of an auto-attendant and offers more tailored interactions. The IVR connects to a database and interacts with callers based on their responses, whether via voice input or tones from a phone keypad.
Benefits of Using an Auto-attendant
An auto-attendant offers an efficient and cost-effective way to serve callers without the need for a live receptionist. Besides improving call navigation, plenty of benefits are associated with auto-attendant systems, and you can read through them below:
Disadvantages of Using an Auto-attendant
While auto-attendants offer many advantages to businesses, setting it up incorrectly leads to damaging side effects to your business. Before automating your business phone system, here are some disadvantages of using an auto-attendant that you should be aware of:
Auto-attendant Tips & Best Practices
If you want to optimize the advantages of auto-attendants, you have to get the implementation right. In this case, it’s important to remember the best practices to increase customer satisfaction levels.
Here are the best practices to get the most out of your auto-attendant:
Tip # 1: Keep Your Menu Options Short & Relevant
Designing an auto-attendant menu requires less complexity. This means the number of options should be short, clear, and relevant. Sub-menus are available to divide the options further. It saves everyone’s time and reduces call abandonment rates.
To visualize the phone menu, you need to build a phone tree. Check out our article on the phone tree examples to find which template suits your needs.
Tip #2: Make It Sound Professional, Yet Friendly
Using a warm, professional human voice for your greetings has a huge impact on how your brand is perceived. It should match the tone and character that your business wants to portray. Callers are more likely to respond better to a real human voice than a computer-generated one.
Tip #3: Keep It Updated
Accurate business information should reflect in your auto-attendant. This is why it’s important to keep it updated at all times whenever any changes in your business occur. These include your business hours, employee extensions, website address, and office location.
Tip #4: Put Most Important Options First
The goal of designing an auto-attendant system is to save callers’ time. While it offers an excellent opportunity for a sales pitch, this is frustrating for callers looking for quick information. Arrange your menu options in terms of the most commonly requested information. This way, it’s easier for callers to find what they need right away.
Tip #5: Always Provide an Option to Speak to a Live Agent
An auto-attendant is not a replacement for its human counterparts, so it’s still important to depend on live agents to solve certain situations. A great tip is to designate the key “0” to talk to a live agent directly. Call centers use this strategy to direct customers with complex inquiries.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can auto-attendants interact with callers?
Auto-attendants have a limited capacity to interact with callers since they depend on a series of menu options to be interactive. In its more advanced version, the interactive voice response (IVR) responds and listens to callers’ voice inputs.
Should I use an auto-attendant or a live operator?
It is recommended to take advantage of both the benefits of auto-attendants and a live operator to provide the best customer service. Auto-attendants offer a more affordable and efficient solution for your call routing needs. However, live operators are useful in answering more complex inquiries while adding a human touch to the conversation.
How can I make my auto-attendant sound more professional?
There are two ways to deliver professional-sounding greetings in your auto-attendant: a well-written script and a professionally recorded voice greeting. Most auto-attendant systems allow you to incorporate voice commands and select the virtual receptionist’s voice. You also have the option to write your own script and have it read by a professional voice talent.
Auto-attendants provide an efficient and cost-effective solution for business communication needs. They improve caller experiences by optimizing call handling, automating simple inquiries, and boosting your business’ professional image. However, it’s worth noting that auto-attendants don’t completely replace human agents in providing excellent customer service and establishing a professional relationship with customers.