An auto attendant phone system automatically greets and routes inbound calls to pre-specified extensions, phones, or voicemail boxes. Multi-level auto attendants also route calls to multiple locations or external phone numbers so mobile or personal phones function the same as a business phone. This technology gives your business a more professional phone presence.
How an Automated Attendant Phone System Works
For many years, companies had dedicated offices staffed with human switchboard operators and receptionists. If customers dialed the company’s main number, they would speak with a receptionist who would physically wire a connection to the appropriate extension. Since the rapid adoption of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone systems, however, this task is now often performed by technology known as an automated attendant.
Like a receptionist, auto attendant phone systems receive incoming calls and use algorithms to route them based on pre-configured rules set by the administrator via a menu builder in your phone system’s management console. This means that someone can call your company, be greeted with a range of options, and reach their desired extension via voice or key commands based on your pre-defined rules, all without anyone on your staff having to intervene.
Some systems offer what’s known as a multi-level auto attendant, which takes the basic auto attendant module and makes it more advanced. Multi-level attendants can route calls to multiple locations or external phone numbers so mobile or personal phones can function in the same way as a business phone. This is particularly helpful for remote teams.
Automated attendants are useful because they handle your incoming call traffic and don’t require any of your employees to route callers in addition to their other duties. They are also helpful because they give your business a more professional presence over the phone. Whether you are a young upstart or a large company, callers that are greeted with a list of options will likely think that your company is established and worth taking seriously.
Benefits of an Automated Attendant
An auto attendant phone system is helpful for just about any team that wants to more effectively handle incoming call traffic. In addition, they also make your company sound more professional over the phone. Even better, they are a free feature found on many business phone systems. Therefore, it’s hard to argue against trying them.
However, automated attendants are especially useful in the following scenarios:
- Call Centers: Auto attendants can efficiently route callers to sales and support teams
- New Companies: A voice menu to greet callers can bring a much-needed sense of credibility to new startups
- Large Teams: An auto-attendant efficiently routes callers to teams and specific extensions
All told, there are few businesses that wouldn’t benefit from an auto attendant phone system. The only environment where the technology wouldn’t be useful is for an extremely small team that would better benefit from a series of direct lines. Whether you want to better handle call traffic or improve your company’s appearance, the technology provides a strong benefit.
Auto Attendant Costs
The cost of an auto attendant will largely depend on the type of phone system you have. You can start using Nextiva’s auto attendant features for $34.95 per user per month. On the other hand, systems like Jive start at just $29.99 per user per month.
There is no shortage of phone systems on the market. No matter what your unique needs and budget, there is sure to be a platform that will let you build and deploy an auto attendant. However, in our research, we find that Nextiva has the best balance of price and feature set. After all, it is our best overall pick for business phone systems on the market today.
Other than the cost of service, you usually don’t have to buy anything else. You can make and receive calls from either your smartphone or computer. We’d recommend looking at our buyer’s guide on the best business phone systems.
Auto Attendant Features
An automated attendant phone system should provide you with the tools to build and deploy voice menus for incoming calls. Most services offer a voice menu builder within an options menu. Common features of an automated attendant include language options, self-service information, routing to groups, and a dial-by-name directory.
Typical auto attendant features include:
Some services, like RingCentral, allow you to offer your voice menu in a variety of different languages. This is helpful if your company is in a diverse area and you’d like to accommodate non-native English speakers. In most cases, it’s helpful to start your voice menu options with “Press 1 for Spanish,” or something to that effect.
In many businesses, a great deal of employee time is wasted answering the phones and answering frequently asked questions such as the company’s business hours. Most modern auto attendant systems allow you to configure self-service menu options that can tell customers this information automatically. For example, you can offer an option that tells callers to press 2 for store hours.
Routing to Call Groups
If you run a call center, it’s important to set up your auto attendant so that callers can easily reach your support team. You can set up your attendant to route calls to all users in, say, the support team so that someone can quickly pick up the phone and help the customer with they need.
The average person calling your business won’t know the extension of the person they are trying to reach. As such, automated attendant features let you set up a dial-by-name directory so that customers can hear a list of options and talk to the employee they wish to speak with. You can usually assign an extension number to each employee via your VoIP system’s settings menu.
Most modern phone systems offer the ability to connect data with CRMs and other business software. For example, you can configure your system to recognize incoming phone numbers and enter them as prospects within Salesforce. These sorts of integrations can help you better understand the people calling your business and help you close more deals.
Auto Attendant Providers
You can find automated attendant features in both full-featured VoIP platforms and less powerful virtual phone systems. While most of the following providers offer auto attendant functionality at all tiers of service, Nextiva only offers it in intermediate pricing plans.
Popular auto attendant phone system providers include :
Nextiva’s Office Pro Plan starts at $34.95 per user, per month and comes with the company’s auto attendant feature for answering and routing calls. It also comes with voicemail-to-email transcription, virtual faxing, and a professionally recorded voice greeting for your attendant. This solution is our pick for both automated attendant phone systems and small business phone systems in general. It should suit the needs of most general business users.
RingCentral is our recommendation for call centers that need 50 or more lines as well as an auto attendant. The service starts at $29.99 per user, per month and offers features such as unlimited domestic calling, automatic call recording, and integration with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
Jive is a VoIP service that starts at $29.99 per user, per month. The service provides users with auto attendant functionality as well as conference calling and the ability to adopt a toll-free number. It is not part of our roundup of auto attendant phone systems, but it is still a worthwhile alternative that is highly rated by our readers.
Pros & Cons of Auto Attendant Phone Systems
While an auto attendant brings benefit to companies of all sizes, they aren’t appropriate in all settings. Business phone systems can be expensive for very small teams, and don’t make sense for solo workers. Here are some important things to consider when thinking about deploying an auto attendant phone system.
Pros of Auto Attendant Phone Systems
An auto attendant phone system provides the following benefits:
- Efficient Call Routing: The technology automatically routes callers and can help you better handle high call volumes
- Professional Appearance: An automated voice menu gives your organization the appearance of an established, respectable company
- Cost Savings: Using an auto attendant, which is usually a free feature in a phone system, provides an enormous cost savings over hiring a receptionist.
Cons of Auto Attendant Phone Systems
Despite the usefulness of an auto attendant, there are a few negatives:
- Internet Reliance: If you do not have a reliable internet connection, these phone systems are not feasible
- Solopreneurs and Very Small Team Issues: If you are the sole employee of your organization, or if you just have a few staff on your team, a full-blown voice menu might be overkill
- User Error: A voice menu is only as good as the person who programs it. It can be very easy to make an overly complex auto attendant menu that confuses and turns off callers.
Auto Attendant Tips
There are some important things to consider to make your attendant as effective as possible. Many callers believe that it takes too long to connect with a live person. The primary cause of the wait is often complicated voice menus.
Your business can do the following to prevent caller frustration:
- Keep Greetings Short: Try to keep your main greeting as brief as possible. Identify the name of your organization, and then immediately give callers the voice options
- Stick to a single “layer” of menus: Your callers should only be a single option away from connecting with a live person. Whenever possible, try to keep your auto attendant menus as simple as possible
- Setup a dial-by-name directory: You should always allow callers to find the specific employee they need to reach by typing their name through the keypad
- Hire a Professional Voice Actor: You want your voice menu to sound as professional as possible. We recommend always using a professionally-recorded greeting for your auto attendant menu. Fiverr allows you to choose from a wide range of voiceover artists for as little at $5 a recording.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are auto attendants available for landline phone systems?
It is possible to set up an auto attendant with your landline business system by buying an expensive PBX box for your office. However, you can configure many leading internet phone systems to forward calls to a landline phone as well.
Can I customize the voice of my auto attendant?
Yes. Most services will offer the option of uploading a custom audio file into the system. If you want your voice menu to sound professional, we recommend getting a professionally-recorded greeting. It can make a huge difference in having customers take your company more seriously.
Can I change my voice menu for when my business is closed?
Many services allow you to use one voice menu during normal business hours, then have another that automatically switches over at the time of your choosing. For example, you can change your voice menu to tell callers that the office is closed if they are trying to reach you after 6 p.m. It can then tell callers when your business will be open and offer them the choice of leaving a message.
Auto attendants can be a massive help in better handling your incoming call traffic. Not only that, but they help your business look more professional. Best of all, they are one of many free features found in VoIP systems.