Buying an Auto Attendant
An auto attendant is a fairly standard feature on modern business phone systems. By automatically answering incoming calls and directing callers to the right extension, an auto attendant can greatly reduce call volumes for a human receptionist. Configured correctly, an auto attendant also makes it easier for callers to get basic information and reach the person they need to speak to. Here's what you need to know when buying an auto attendant.
The basic functionality of an auto attendant is consistent across most brands and models of phone systems. All incoming calls are routed to the auto attendant, which plays a custom greeting you record. The attendant should then present several options to the caller:
- Dial an extension directly
- Press a number to reach frequently-called employees or departments
- Press 0 to reach an operator
The combination of these three options is the best way to avoid creating any frustration on the part of your callers. For the best customer service, the system should let callers press 0 at any time to reach a human receptionist.
A popular additional option is a dial by name directory, which lets callers spell out a portion of the name they're trying to reach, then offers matching names. Also look for systems that let you store different greetings that play during and after business hours and include music or messaging on hold.
Auto attendant or IVR?
You can also configure an auto-attendant to provide basic information about your business: hours, directions, and other commonly-asked questions. While you should be able to update these messages quickly and easily, they are simple recorded messages.
If you're interested in a phone system that can automatically provide information pulled from a database, such as account balances or shipping information, you'll need to upgrade to an interactive voice response system (IVR). IVRs are both more complex and more expensive, so make sure you have the business case to justify the upgrade before committing to it.
How to evaluate an auto attendant
List of features and capabilities are useful in an initial comparison of systems, but you'll get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses by using them yourself. Get reference numbers from each phone system supplier you talk to and make a point of calling them all. Try to reach different departments, listen to the recordings, and see how the system works during buy call times and after hours.
If possible, have the vendor show you how the system is administered. For example, it should be relatively easy to re-record your greeting or add a new name to the directory.
Finally, the best auto attendants are well-integrated with a complete business phone system. Whether you're buying a basic phone system for a small office or a full-featured system for a large call center, it's important to find a dealer that understands your overall telecommunications goals and can design a system that helps you reach them.
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