This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
Misrouted calls lead to dissatisfied customers, which is where knowing how to properly set up a phone tree comes in. This term is used to describe the set of automated menus that routes a caller to the desired department, extension, or individual quickly and correctly. To set your phone tree up, create a diagram based on your call routing rules, assign call groups, and configure your phone system’s menu settings, including setting the hours when various menus will be available to callers.
Here is how to set up a phone tree for your voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) business phone system in four steps:
1. Create a Diagram
Creating the correct flow for your phone tree menus starts by creating a diagram that tracks the entire customer journey from the receipt of the call to the moment their issues are resolved. The diagram will answer questions like “What department do they need?” and “Can their query be managed via self-service?”
This is the first step toward visualizing and implementing the customer’s calling journey, so it’s important to get it right. Fortunately, online resources can help you design a phone tree, such as Canva, Visme, Adobe Spark, Crello, and even MS Paint. In fact, for an even simpler approach, you can even draw out your phone tree’s diagram with pencil and paper. No matter how it looks, as long as it helps you visualize the customer journey, it’ll be invaluable.
To make it easier for you, we have created a number of phone tree diagram templates that you download and adapt to your business needs, which you can find in our article on phone tree examples. Regardless of how you create your phone tree diagram, here are a few components of your tree that should be present:
This gives the incoming caller information about your company. When they dial in, they’ll hear your business name and potentially more packets of information, like your field, how long the business has been serving the community, and so on. Your main greeting can also tell the caller that they can dial the extension of whomever they’re trying to reach at any point in the menu (if this feature is available).
Pro tip: Keep in mind the best business phone systems will let you create multiple menu prompts for your customers. You’ll want these to be clear and concise menus, which is why some customers may have their prompt scripts professionally recorded. You can also use text-to-speech to have a computer-generated audio file for your phone tree prompts.
Immediately following the main greeting are your menu’s language options. This helps non-English speakers navigate to the submenu that best matches their native language. Be sure to include non-English submenus with all of the proper counterparts for each language.
General Information & Announcements
If you want to include some general information about your business, you can assign a selection for company information or announcements. This section of the phone tree will have its own extension. In addition to general information, leaving announcements, special offers, or standard or holiday hours is often done here. This section serves as an initial type of self-service call routing menu where the caller can gather information without needing to be routed to an agent.
Call groups can be one of the most important helpful benefits of phone systems with interactive voice response (IVR) or auto-attendants. This is a grouping of your business departments, and you need to include every potential option for your callers. For example, this submenu can prompt the caller to dial “1” for your Customer Service department, “2” for your Sales department, or “3” to reach Billing. This submenu may need to be edited from time to time as your business grows and adds new departments.
For those customers who have an existing business relationship with a specific agent, having an option to access a dial-by-name directory on your phone tree makes getting the help they need quicker. Every team member will have an extension attributed to them that can match the first few letters of their name or their initials. This is just a way to help shorten the waiting period before a customer gets help and to help them connect with someone familiar with their case or problem.
2. Assign Call Groups
Once your diagram is complete, it’s time to classify your employees so that they are reachable via each of their respective departments. Since call groups are assigned to specific departments, it’s critical to assign every employee to the correct department to avoid misrouting calls. For example, when a caller attempts to reach customer support, it would be annoying if they were instead sent to someone in the sales department.
When you set up a phone tree, it’s a good idea to list all the names and extensions of employees who fall within a specific call group. This should be done even with temps and floating staff. For example, sometimes you may have a team member who might help out with customer support but is part of a sales team. With some providers, including RingCentral, you can assign agents to multiple call groups.
3. Configure Phone Tree Settings in the IVR Menu
Now that you’ve done the preliminary steps, it’s time to get down to the actual process of configuring your phone tree’s IVR menus. This process tends to vary from provider to provider, but each has some system that typically uses a web portal and a visual hierarchy for IVR configuration. For example, Zoom provides a basic IVR flow chart you can edit by adding routing options and submenus. However, we used RingCentral’s multi-level IVR setup for the purposes of this guide.
We chose to feature RingCentral as it has one of the best auto-attendant and IVR systems currently on the market. It has options available for your phone tree that vary based on plan. At the lowest plan tier you’ll have an auto-attendant, while higher tiers enable you to build out a multi-level IVR. It also has a Visual IVR Editor, which provides a clean user interface with drag-and-drop menus for users. This makes the process of setting up a phone tree simple and easy.
That said, whatever system your provider has, you can usually learn all about configuration at your own pace when you have a subscription or during one of the providers’ free trial offers. With most providers there will be some means to record audio, use prerecorded audio, or use text-to-speech to create menu prompts for your users.
All RingCentral IVR configuration settings start at the Auto-Receptionist submenu on the RingCentral portal. Select from General Settings, IVR Menus, an IVR Editor, or a Prompts Library. When you click the Visual IVR Editor, you’re presented with several saved IVR menus you can use and customize for your business. To create a new one, select the phone icon under “New Tree.” This will create a new base-level phone tree menu that has a plus sign with settings that drop down.
The “+” plus sign allows you to perform structural edits. For example, you can create a new menu, attach an existing one, transfer to an external number, or send the caller to a dial-by-name directory, voicemail, or extension. Once you select an option, the system will allow you to assign key presses for each submenu and label each menu based on your business’ call routing rules. Most systems, like RingCentral, will also allow you to preset call groups to select from them as you configure your menu.
The menu settings for the drop-down allow you to customize the menus the caller will hear. For example, under prompt, select between a pre-saved audio file and text-to-speech spoken prompts. You can create audio files for your prompts in the prompts library.
4. Set Hours for Your Phone Tree Menus
By default, your IVR system will most likely have a 24-hour, seven days a week operational time. However, providers like RingCentral also allow you to create a second menu to use after business hours.
For example, your first menu can receive calls and route them to your call groups during business hours. Your second IVR phone tree will then route callers to voicemails or local sales teams in other offices after standard business hours for the office they called. Some providers will provide more than two menus so that you can set specific menus for things like holidays; in fact, with RingCentral’s Ultimate Plan, you can program up to 250 phone trees at a time.
Setting up an efficient IVR phone tree is only one aspect of setting up your VoIP business communications system. For an in-depth guide, take a look at our featured guide on how to set up your VoIP system to learn more about the other steps involved.
Simply put, you need to set up a phone tree to ensure that your callers have the best experience possible. Correctly laid-out menus will also reduce your agents’ work because a good IVR system will help a customer perform self-service tasks like bill pay or access information about your company’s hours, holidays, and promotions without needing to interact with your reps.