Business VoIP features like auto attendants streamline the customer experience by helping callers get the information they need without waiting on hold or having their calls transferred.
Here, we’ll outline the best auto attendant phone systems that improve first-call resolution and customer satisfaction.
- How Auto Attendants Work
- How to Set Up
- Auto Attendant vs IVR
- Auto Attendants Pros
- Auto Attendants Cons
- Best Auto Attendants
What is an Auto Attendant?
An auto attendant is a business phone system feature that automatically answers, greets, and routes inbound calls based on the caller’s response to a self-service menu.
Also called virtual receptionists or auto-receptionists, they connect the caller to the best-available agent or department based on information they provide via speech, dial pad entry, or the specific phone number dialed.
Multi-level auto attendants automatically play pre-recorded messages that give the caller additional options after they’ve indicated which department or agent they need. In addition to helping agents during peak call volume, auto attendants provide self-service that often prevents callers from requiring a live agent.
By utilizing pre-set IVR call flows, auto attendants can:
- Help callers identify the department they want to reach
- Prevent inbound callers from hanging up or disconnecting
- Forward unanswered calls to voicemail or another agent
- Automatically transfer and route inbound calls
- Provide callers with key information like hours, location, or weather/COVID updates
- Hold calls until a live agent is available
How Does an Auto Attendant Work?
Here’s how an auto attendant works:
- Greets inbound callers who dial a particular number: When the caller dials the number linked to the auto attendant, the call connects. The auto attendant plays the pre-recorded greeting or voices the type-to-talk message
- Announces menu options and routing choices: After the greeting, the auto attendant narrates the routing menu options. For example, “Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Billing, Press 3 for Technical Support,” etc.
- Caller selects a menu option: After hearing the menu options, the caller indicates their intended destination using a dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) selection or voicing the menu selection out loud
- Auto attendant announces sub-menu options: If the caller’s choice leads to additional options, the auto attendant voices the submenu options
- Caller makes submenu selection: The caller makes a selection from the submenu options, using the same DTMF or voice method as before
- Auto attendant routes call to user, voicemail, or audio message: Depending on the caller’s choice, the auto attendant either routes the call to a user, a queue, or plays an announcement. If the user is unavailable, the auto attendant can place the call in a waiting queue or route it to voicemail.
- Hang up: When the call is completed or the caller has heard the announcement, the auto attendant or caller hangs up the phone
How to Set Up an Auto Attendant
The process for setting up an auto attendant varies by provider, but it typically involves the following steps:
- Assign menu options: In your phone system software’s auto attendant settings, assign a routing destination to each keypad number, 1-9. You can route calls to an agent, department, voicemail, audio announcement, or ring group.
- Record greeting and menu options: Record audio or use text-to-talk to record a menu that communicates routing options to inbound callers. Add announcements or multiple levels of menu options.
- Create call groups or queues: If you’d like to group multiple adults together to share responsibility, build call groups or create queues in your phone system settings
- Set business hours: Customize your menu options, announcements, and routing based on business hours or agent availability
- Configure timeout settings: Set options to redirect the caller to the main menu, voicemail, or hang up if calls remain unanswered for a select period of time
- Save settings and test: Test your auto attendant menu to make sure everything runs smoothly
- Improve menu over time: Use any available data, queue volume statistics, and customer feedback to continually refine your auto attendant for customer satisfaction
The Difference Between an Auto Attendant and IVR
Auto attendant refers to the greeting and routing portion of the larger interactive voice response (IVR) system, which has more advanced call distribution and routing capabilities.
The IVR connects to the company-wide phone system and databases that enable it to provide a wider range of self-service options with advanced call routing strategies, intelligent assistants, ring strategies, or more streamlined drag-and-drop call flow design tools. An auto attendant is a straightforward voice-based menu that greets and routes callers.
Put simply, an auto attendant is one part of an IVR system.
The Pros of Using Auto Attendants
An auto attendant is a great way to improve the first impression that customers get when they reach your business, but there are other benefits associated with using this type of system as well.
- Optimized call handling: A large number of calls that are routed using an attendant system will be handled simultaneously, resulting in higher customer satisfaction. It provides more professionalism in the first interaction that a customer has with your business as well.
- 24/7 customer access: Auto attendants will be able to route calls to another site or a voicemail when your office is not open. This saves you from losing business by not answering the phone or receiving calls after hours. With tools like Find Me/Follow Me (remote call forwarding), calls are even sent to mobile phones for agents who work remotely.
- Cost-effective: With an auto attendant-based routing system, you will not need to hire a secretary to take calls full-time. An auto attendant is included in a subscription and can do that work, saving you a few thousand dollars.
- Third-party app integration: CRM VoIP integration plays a major part in how customer relations are formed. These integrations allow an agent to bring up customer information while the call is being routed using the auto attendant, which helps the agent be better prepared for the incoming call.
The Cons of Using Auto Attendants
These systems are not perfect for every business. They do have their flaws and based on these, you may decide that you want a live person taking calls or a more complex routing system. Here are some of the areas where these systems fall behind.
- Impersonal initial interactions: Based on research done by Usabilla, 55% of customers prefer the comfort of speaking to an actual human being over interacting with a machine. With an attendant system, the customer does not use voice input to route callers properly, so some may hang up before they even get a chance to speak to an agent.
- Poor design causes abandonment: Organizing your menus takes a little finesse, and it’s easy to create a poor customer experience. In general, you don’t want long menus that could be confusing for the customer. Also, there should always be an option for the customer to reach an agent. Similarly to setting up IVR call flows, attendant menus must be easy to navigate to be effective.
- Wrong button presses: When a customer is impatient, or they simply press the wrong button, they may be routed to the wrong agent. This means that rerouting the call to the proper department will cost more time and money the attendant was designed to eliminate. It could also make the customer start back at the beginning of the menus, which is likely to cause annoyance before contact is made with an agent.
The Best Auto Attendant Phone Systems
The providers listed below have easily configurable auto-attendant processes and are especially ideal for small businesses or startups.
RingCentral MVP (Message, Phone, Video) is a UCaaS solution designed for businesses with a high daily call volume, and those who want to organize their inbound calls into queues.
Its multi-level auto attendant feature is available on all three RingCentral MVP paid plans, which range from $20 to $35 monthly per user.
- Core ($20 monthly): Desktop and mobile app with Multi-level IVR, basic call queues, on-demand call recording, call monitoring
- Advanced ($25 monthly): Up to 1000 monthly toll-free minutes per account, advanced routing and call queues, on-demand call recording
- Ultra ($35 monthly): Up to 10,000 toll-free minutes per account
Nextiva is a unified communications platform with VoIP, SMS, team chat, and video conferencing. The provider has four paid plans from $18.95 to $32.95 monthly per user, which support unlimited calling in the US and Canada.
- Professional ($18.95 monthly): Desktop and mobile app, unlimited calling, basic auto attendant
- Professional ($22.95 monthly): Up to 3000 monthly toll-free minutes per account, multi-level auto attendant, Salesforce and Hubspot integrations
- Enterprise ($32.95 monthly): 12,500 toll-free minutes per account
Grasshopper is a VoIP provider designed for small teams or solopreneurs that need an affordable and simple phone system. Plans include unlimited calling and SMS within the US, plus toll-free and local phone numbers from area codes across the United States.
Grasshopper pricing plans range from $26 to $80 monthly per account. Each plan includes a mobile and desktop app, voicemail transcription, call forwarding, and call transfer. Grasshopper includes multiple phone-line extensions with each plan, which you can use to create an auto attendant.
- True Solo: ($14/mo per account): 1 user, 1 phone number, 1 extension
- Solo Plus ($28/mo per account): unlimited users, 1 phone number, 3 extensions
- Partner ($46/mo per account): unlimited users, 3 phone numbers and 6 extensions
- Small Business ($80/mo per account): unlimited users, 5 phone numbers, unlimited extensions
Vonage is a VoIP phone system with video, SMS, team chat, and basic telephony features–an auto attendant, call groups, and visual voicemail.
Vonage Unified Communications pricing ranges from $19.99 to $39.99 monthly per user.
- Mobile ($19.99 monthly): Mobile and desktop apps, call transfer and forwarding, unlimited calling and texting in the United States
- Premium ($29.99 monthly): Adds multi-level auto attendant, CRM integrations
- Advanced ($39.99 monthly): Adds call groups, visual voicemail, and 15 hours of on-demand call recording
8×8 is a unified communications platform with VoIP, SMS, team chat, large video meetings, and plans that support a large unlimited international calling area. Both 8×8 plans have quote-based pricing requiring you to contact them for an estimate, but each plan includes a multi-level auto attendant.
- X2: Desktop and mobile app, unlimited calling to 14 countries, multi-level auto attendant, ring groups, call transfer and forwarding, call queues, voicemail transcription, AI-enhanced speech analytics, CRM integrations
- X4: Expands unlimited calling to 48 countries, adds call monitoring
3CX’s business phone system includes a multi-level auto attendant on each plan, alongside live team chat, SMS, and video conferencing. Uniquely, 3CX supports both cloud-hosted and on-premises PBX systems where users supply their own SIP trunk. Small companies with their own SIP trunk can even use 3CX’s free plan, which includes ring groups and a welcome message.
3CX offers four plans, charged per system. Aside from the free plan, all 3CX plans include multi-level auto attendant.
- Free ($0 monthly): Bring your own SIP trunk, desktop and mobile apps, business hours routing, ring groups, welcome message
- Small Business ($275 per system with 20 users): Call queues, multi-level IVR, call monitoring
- Professional ($265 per system on-premises, $515 hosted): Adds CRM integrations and call recording
- Enterprise ($325 per system on-premises, $575 hosted): Adds skills-based routing
Ooma is a business phone service provider offering video, SMS, and unlimited VoIP within the US, Canada, and Mexico. An auto attendant is included with every plan and supports talk-to-text, which allows you to type menu options and announcements.
Ooma Office supports three plans:
- Essentials: Mobile app only, auto attendant, ring groups, multi-device ringing, a direct dial number per user, a toll-free number per account
- Pro: Adds desktop app and call recording
- Pro Plus: Adds call queueing, CRM integrations, shared voicemail boxes, and advanced call management with 5 auto-attendant schedules
Phone.com is a UCaaS platform with VoIP, video, and texting. The provider offers plans with unlimited minutes or pooled minutes, making it a cost-effective option for companies with low call volumes. Auto attendants come with each plan, with the unique ability for users to mix and match plans.
- Basic ($12.74 monthly): Mobile and web apps, 500 pooled minutes per account, one phone number per user, 10-participant video conferencing, auto attendant, call queues, call handling rules
- Plus ($18.69 monthly): Unlimited calling in the United States and much of Canada, voicemail transcription, SMS texting
- Pro ($27.19 monthly): Adds call analytics and unlimited call recording
GoTo Connect is a UCaaS system that features an auto attendant in all its cloud-based PBX solutions. The automated system answers calls with a custom greeting to reflect your brand or the time of year. Further, the Standard plan supports unlimited calling to an incredible 50+ countries.
GoTo Connect comes in two pricing plans:
- Basic ($24 monthly per user): Desktop and mobile app, unlimited calling in the US and Canada, smart call routing, one auto attendant with a recorded greeting, one ring group, one call queue, and one customizable dial plan
- Standard ($29 monthly per user): 50+ country unlimited calling area, unlimited auto attendants, ring groups, dial plans, and call queues
Dialpad is a cloud communications platform with VoIP, team chat, small-team video conferencing, and SMS. The platform stands out with its use of AI features, such as live coaching for on-call agents and automated post-meeting summaries.
In addition to a multi-level auto attendant on each plan, Dialpad allows users to record or upload custom greetings and offers custom call routing strategies to ensure callers reach the right department. Dialpad offers 3 pricing plans, ranging from $15 to over $25 monthly per user.
- Standard ($15 monthly): Desktop and mobile apps, AI-powered call transcriptions, multi-level auto attendant, custom call routing, voicemail transcription, real-time analytics, 3 ring groups
- Pro ($25 monthly): 25 ring groups, local numbers in over 70 countries, CRM integrations
- Enterprise (custom pricing): Unlimited ring groups
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 or a call center 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
- Omnichannel routing
Auto attendants are easy to implement, shorten customer wait times, and connect callers to the right department. They are also something to consider for small businesses that don’t need overly complex menus for their customers.