One of the most critical customer service statistics from Bain and Company states that companies that provide an excellent customer service experience will see their revenues grow by 4 – 8%. Business VoIP grants unique opportunities to route calls and creates better experiences by getting callers to the right place. Remember, you only have about seven seconds to make an impression, so make it count.
The best auto attendant phone systems are a useful way to present your brand quickly to callers while making initial customer interactions more streamlined.
What is an Auto Attendant?
Auto attendants are software tools that a business uses to answer incoming phone calls. Sometimes, these are called virtual receptionists or auto-receptionists. These systems prevent customers from hanging up by routing the caller more efficiently. In addition to transferring calls, an auto-attendant gives callers information like the hours and the location of the business.
A multi-level auto-attendant is when the prerecorded message gives the caller additional options after they select a department. These also have the option to send customers to the business or an agent’s voicemails.
How to Set Up an Auto Attendant
The process of setting up the best auto attendant phone system is going to vary based on your provider – some have text to voice options out of the box, and others require you to create your scripts and audio files. For example, learning how to set up your Dialpad auto attendant using their tutorial is an entirely different process than Jive’s drag and drop interface to design a customer journey.
Here’s a brief tutorial on how to set up your automated attendant software through a control panel:
- Decide the call management method for your auto attendant – should calls be routed to the auto attendant that the receptionist can’t respond to? Or should it be all calls?
- Assign the phone number to the attendant and add any additional numbers that will be used by the attendant.
- Create greetings and menu options by either typing them up for text to speech attendants or record them for future uploading to the system.
- Record auto-attendant voicemail response scripts.
- Add receptionist groups if needed. These forward the incoming calls to specific users before landing in the auto attendant.
- Decide whether there will be an operator option. This will configure the system to accept “0” or another number on the keypad as a default way to reach the receptionist or answering service.
- Set up business hours.
- Set up a schedule for day and night mode.
- Set up greetings and schedules for holidays.
- Configure the timeout setting. This will either repeat the greeting or route the call to the receptionist if the caller doesn’t respond to the prompts.
- Save your settings.
Overall, the system usually includes setting up a call flow through either a portal or a dial-in number using one of the endpoints that are on the calling system. Most systems ask you to input or record an initial greeting as well as greetings for business hours, holidays, and each department. You’ll also be asked to enter the specific phone numbers or extensions for each department. Some systems incorporate first-level extension dialing, which enables users to dial an extension immediately without having to go through the entire menu.
Here is what Dialpad’s setup looks like:
Here is what Jive’s drag and drop setup looks like:
The Difference Between an Auto Attendant and IVR
When trying to understand the difference, it’s best to look at auto attendants as a simplified automated system and interactive voice response systems (IVRs) as a more responsive and configurable method for call routing. This isn’t to detract from auto-attendants – they are beneficial for routing calls to the right department. Auto attendants are a more straightforward way of automating call routing – even the best auto attendant phone systems won’t deliver self-service or survey administration options like an IVR system.
A sound auto attendant system is a baseline for many VoIP providers. It works well for those businesses that don’t need voice recognition and bill pay options. While less sophisticated, an auto-attendant has features like day and night mode. When configuring day and night mode, your business may have all calls ring the number four times and then send the call to the auto-attendant. When night mode is engaged past a certain time, the calls will automatically be sent to the auto-attendant because there are no agents available.
Just like with IVR, your auto-attendant scripts are your means of communicating with the customer – the last thing you want is to have a poor auto-attendant flow that frustrates a customer as they are routed.
The Best Auto Attendant Phone Systems
Which auto attendant is best for your organization? Just about every VoIP provider delivers some form of the auto-attendant that’s bundled in with their phone service, but here’s our list of systems that are easy to set up or stand out for small businesses.
RingCentral has a multi-level auto attendant that businesses with a high volume of incoming calls may find value in. This auto attendant feature is available with all plans, and it’s even possible to try it out during RingCentral’s free 15-day trial. Plans range in price from $24.99 to $44.99 per month, and there are several RingCentral alternatives to consider if these plans are missing features that your business needs.
Other important features of RingCentral:
- 24/7 customer support
- Automatic call recording at Office Premium and above
- Salesforce integration at Office Premium and above
Nextiva is a provider with business communication solutions that are designed for solopreneurs and smaller teams. The plans that they offer are per user per month, and they range from $35 to $55. Each plan has an auto attendant option, but the professionally recorded greeting starts at the Pro plan. This is an ideal value for businesses switching to cloud-based communications, but if a specific feature is lacking, look into Nextiva alternatives.
Other important features of Nextiva:
- Unlimited SMS at Pro and above
- Mobile phone apps available at Pro and above
- CRM Integrations with Salesforce and Zendesk
Grasshopper is another provider that provides VoIP solutions to solopreneurs and smaller businesses. .Grasshopper has an auto attendant that provides recorded scripts to answer your incoming calls. The company also has a professional voice studio for an additional fee. If you prefer to have calls taken by a live person, Grasshopper also has a live virtual receptionist option. Grasshopper pricing plans range from $29 to $89 a month.
Other important features of Grasshopper:
- Desktop and mobile apps with all plans
- Gmail integration available
- Voicemail transcription included with all plans
Vonage offers competitive plans for small businesses or enterprises. The company stacks up well against the competition by offering three-tier plans as well as a la carte features to fit your needs better. Vonage Business Cloud pricing is between $19.99 and $39.99, and all plans come with an auto attendant. However, if you are looking for a multi-level auto attendant, you will need to have the premium plan or above.
Other important features of Vonage:
- Integration with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics
- Spam shield for all incoming calls
- Company-wide call recording available
8×8 is for companies with a high number of incoming international calls. Pricing for 8×8 plans ranges from $25 to $55 per user each month. Each plan comes with an auto-attendant as well as both mobile and desktop apps. However, the auto-attendant doesn’t inform callers of the current wait time, which makes it best for businesses with a low call volume. We created a video a few years back that details the auto-attendant key mapping setup process for 8×8.
Other important features of 8×8:
- Up to 10 GB of media storage (call or meeting recordings)
- Unlimited calling in up to 47 countries
- Access to dial by name directory
3CX’s business phone system includes a digital receptionist and stands out because it permits recording in multiple audio file formats like WAV, PCM, 8 kHz, 16 bit, and mono. Their menu and sub-menu options for setting up the attendant are fairly extensive with selections such as “connect to queue,” “transfer to voicemail,” and “send call to call flow apps.” In total, when setting up this aspect of your routing, you have 10 options for how to direct callers.
Other important features of 3CX:
- HD video conferencing support
- Support for multiple office desk phone models
- Caller ID, remote call forwarding, and charging based on the number of simultaneous calls.
Ooma provides an auto attendant upon setting up an account. By default, the auto attendant for Ooma, which they call a virtual receptionist, is configured with text-to-speech enabled. This means that you select the greeting, and a computer-generated voice reads it to the caller. The control panel also allows you to record your audio files, so if you have a receptionist that is your typical first point of contact, this is a good option.
Ooma’s auto-attendant provides team members a means in which to check voicemails remotely on a cell phone. Check out our guide on Ooma Office Pricing to learn more.
Other important features of Ooma:
- Multi-ring to ring various devices simultaneously
- Enhanced call blocking
- Ooma Office Base Station connects existing analog phones to the VoIP network
Phone.com stands out in the VoIP industry because it includes one local or toll-free number with several business plans. An auto attendant is also included with their Base, Plus, and Pro plans, and its lowest plan is only $12.99 per month. Phone.com has hosted dedicated webinars for those looking to set up their auto attendants. Its pricing places it in a similar niche to Grasshopper, which is why it was featured in our Grasshopper vs Phone.com standoff.
Other important features of Phone.com:
- Vanity phone numbers
- SMS messaging included
- Unlimited user extensions
We recently covered the Jive PBX and business phone system, and we talked about their Dial Plan Editor to route callers. The Jive editor uses a drag and drop system that extends to the features of the auto-attendant. With the VoIP phone system, you quickly decide what happens when a caller reaches your auto attendant, which decreases handle time and reduces the chance of accidental misroutes.
Other important features of Jive:
- Schedule-based call routing and contact center features
- Find me/Follow me
- Smartphone support for Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile
Recently, there have been several new developments at Dialpad that help to illustrate their dedication to providing strong features to their customers. Dialpad’s auto attendant is configurable via a browser, so making minute changes is done on most devices. The auto-attendant is available at every tier of Dialpad.
Other important features of Dialpad:
- Call center features
- Call recording at the Pro level and above
- Virtual phone numbers in up to 50 countries
Are Auto-Attendant Phone Systems IVR Alternatives?
Before you select an auto-attendant provider from our list, understand that they don’t do everything. An IVR solution is better for your organization if you need:
- Self-service options for customers
- CSATs (customer satisfaction surveys)
- Menus that are accessible by voice response
Auto attendants stand out because they are easy to implement into any office environment – they shorten wait times and help customers get to the right department. They are also something to consider for small businesses that don’t need overly complex menus for their customers.
If you need a more detailed form of call routing, learn more about IVR systems – we have detailed listings and FAQs for the top providers as well as information about critical features.