Although there are obvious benefits to having an auto-attendant, many (if not most) people would still prefer to communicate with a human instead of a machine. Any negative feelings about your automated answering system will only be exacerbated if it provides information that is outdated, unhelpful or downright erroneous. Beyond simply damaging a customer’s impression of your company, it could easily cost you business.

Statistics have shown that the quality of customer service is increasingly important to people, and that they’re willing to abandon a company after having a bad experience with auto-attendants or interactive voice response systems – or live representative for that matter. They’re also more eager than ever to share this poor experience with friends, family and the world at large courtesy of social media and other online platforms.

While auto-attendants may seem like a feature that is exclusive to larger businesses, or those that utilize call center software, it’s common for smaller outfits have one in place, even if they have a live receptionist. Auto-attendants are useful for times when you happen have too much call volume for your representative to handle, when the office is closed (including holidays, lunch time etc.) or simply to offload some of the more monotonous duties from your receptionist.

What’s The Difference Between Auto-Attendants & IVRs?

Auto-Attendant – An automated attendant (aka phone trees, auto-attendant, auto-receptionist etc.) routes incoming calls to the correct agent or extension. An auto-attendant is “dumb,” in the sense that all it can do is route calls. The auto-attendant can have many different parameters (such as day/night mode), but a call’s final destination is a call queue or a mail box. An auto-attendant also plays hold/connect music while it hunts.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) – These are an advanced auto-attendant with more capabilities for input and response. An IVR is great for handling automated tasks that involve numbers and simple yes/no answers. For example, if you call your credit card company, you can pay by phone by entering the numbers in your checking account. Or you might follow up a tech support call with a survey on a scale of 1-5 of how well your call went.

Checklist: Give Your Auto-Attendant the Latest Information

Accurate business hours – Did you recently start opening the office for a few hours on Sunday? Did you give everyone the day off on a low-volume weekday? Update this information accordingly.

Latest website addresses – URLs come and URLs go. Make sure you point callers to the right destination so they don’t receive a 404 error when punching in your site addresses.

All your office locations – Maybe less of a concern for small businesses, but larger organizations with many office destinations should keep on top of this data in their auto-attendant.

Employee extensions – Did John Smith move from support to sales? Perhaps he’s no longer with your company? Along with keeping this information up to date, let callers know when they can enter this information as soon as possible so they aren’t needlessly listening to your menu script.

Promotional mentions – Plugging your latest promotions somewhere in your auto-attendant script can be a helpful way to keep customers informed and boost sales – assuming the offer hasn’t expired!

Seasonal updates – Besides mentioning any changes to your schedule for the holidays, this can be a great opportunity to greet customers with messages that are tailored for specific times of year.

Mention menu changes – If you’ve updated the options or information on your auto-attendant, let people know with a quick mention. It’s suggested that you keep this mention active for a few weeks to make sure regular callers are aware – the notice is less valuable to infrequent callers.

Rapid Fire: Best Practices For Configuring an Auto-Attendant

  • List your most frequently used options first and describe a menu option before giving the number for reaching that destination. Example: “For sales, press 3…” instead of “Press 3 for sales.” People are listening closer for their desired destination and this is objectively more valuable information.
  • If you have multiple language options such as English and Spanish, mention this after identifying your business name but before the rest of your script begins. Don’t make a Spanish speaking caller listen to your entire list of menu options before receiving the prompt to change languages.
  • Keep things brief and simple. If you have more than five or six menu options, break them down into tiers that progress logically. And don’t get too wordy with your voice recordings such as saying “Please…” before every option – people value their time more than the manners of your machine.
  • Minimize or avoid mentioning promotions on the main menu of your auto-attendant. These may not be relevant to everyone who is calling and regardless, not everyone will be interested. Instead, plug your latest deals on a sub-menu, such as one that leads to your sales department, to engage a more relevant audience who won’t be as bothered by hearing what your company has to offer.
  • Make it easy for people to reach a living, breathing representative. For as well-constructed as your auto-attendant or even IVR system may be, it won’t be able to address every caller’s circumstances and some people will inevitably benefit from speaking with a person sooner rather than later.
  • Similarly, don’t assume every caller can provide the number input to communicate with your auto-attendant – whether because of a disability or simply lacking the option on the device they’re calling from. Don’t hang up on them! Forward people to a live agent after a brief delay.
  • Personalize the tone of your auto-attendant so it matches your company’s culture. The answering service at doctor’s office shouldn’t sound the same as one at a youth apparel outlet, for instance – not just in their choice of hold music, but the actual personality of the voice recording.
  • If you’re recording the messages yourself, try smiling during the recording session or engaging in something that is humorous directly before making the recording. This will lighten the tone of your voice and your emotional state will carry through more than you may realize.

The Bottom Line

Despite the increasing trends for people to engage with businesses through new online channels, phone calls are statistically the most common way that customers make contact with companies for the first time. This first point of contact is crucial for establishing a strong impression and ultimately earning someone’s business. Configuring your auto-attendant with information that is up-to-date, helpful and respectful of people’s time is a great step toward demonstrating the professionalism of your organization, whether that’s a small business or enterprise operation.