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The Ultimate Guide to Auto-Attendant for Businesses

August 25, 2022
phone system for small business

When calling a business, you just want to be able to talk to the right person as quickly as possible. Well, this is what auto-attendant phone systems are all about. Also called virtual receptionists or automated virtual assistants, they are the cornerstone of modern customer service. Even for small businesses.

Take a short moment to read below and discover everything you need to know about the auto-attendant phone system, how it works, what you should expect from your solution provider, as well as how to set them up. Here we go!

Table Of Content
  • What is an auto-attendant?
  • What are the auto-attendant main features?
  • Auto-attendant benefits for your business
  • How to set up your auto-attendant phone system in Quicktalk

What is an auto-attendant?

Auto-attendants are not just for established MNCs and their call centers, they can be beneficial to businesses of all sizes. When calling a customer care number, you've probably heard an auto-attendant say something along the lines:

Thank you for calling (Company Name).We're happy to help you.For Product Information, press 1.For Customer Support, press 2.For Accounts and Financing, press 3.To speak to an operator, press 0.Press star to hear the menu again.

The idea here is quite simple – to shorten the time you spend waiting on a call and connect you to the right person.

Auto-attendant: definition and function

An auto-attendant can be defined as a phone system that routes incoming calls to various extensions as specified by caller interaction with a recorded menu. As the name suggests, an auto-attendant is an automated version of a person attending incoming calls.

Incoming calls are answered by the auto-attendant with a welcome message and a call routing menu. Depending on the caller's inputs, the call is routed to the concerned department or the menu is repeated. Informational messages about office locations, business hours, new launches, etc. may also be played.

Auto-attendants help manage incoming calls efficiently and play an important role in improving customer experiences.

What is the difference between auto-attendant, IVR and ACD (automated call distribution)?

Business phone systems can be puzzling at times. Auto-attendants, IVR and ACD may sound similar but they have different functions. Let's find out more.

  • Auto-Attendants: This feature is used to play a recorded message to callers and give them the option of dialing a known extension or routing their call through a menu. Calls can be routed to an extension within the organization. to an outside line or a voicemail number. Auto-attendants are also known as virtual receptionists or automated receptionists.
  • Interactive Voice Response: IVR or Interactive Voice Response is a phone system where callers can interact with a recorded menu through the keypad or voice commands. IVR routes calls to different departments or provides self-service options. For example. a bank’s IVR may ask callers to input their customer ID to access a database from where they can find out their bank balance. outstanding bills. etc.
  • Automatic Call Distribution: ACD or Automatic Call Distribution systems are similar to Auto-attendants. Callers are provided with a menu through which they can route their calls to various extensions. The term is typically used in large call centers.

What is a multi-level auto-attendant?

A multi-level auto-attendant takes the virtual receptionist a step further. This allows you to have the auto-attendant answer calls differently based on predetermined rules.

For example, a different menu may be played during business hours and after business hours. Caller greetings can also be customized to the location, time, holidays, etc.

Auto-attendant, the modern version of the switchboard operator

Auto-attendants are a necessity today for any business that fields a large number of incoming calls. Truly, it is the modern version of a switchboard operator.

Unlike having a person answer calls, using an auto-attendant ensures a consistent message is played for all callers and calls are routed with minimal risk of error.

The future of auto-attendant: AI and voice recognition

As technology evolves so will the service offered by auto-attendants. The aim is to move towards giving callers a seamless experience. AI and voice recognition will play a crucial role here.

The system is moving away from depending on DTMF tones for caller input and shifting to recognizing voice commands. So, instead of pressing 1 for Order Status, the caller can simply say the words and have the call directed to the concerned department. This can help deliver faster responses and increase customer satisfaction.

What are the auto-attendant main features?

An auto-attendant eliminates the need for a dedicated phone receptionist and gives your callers a quick way to connect with people from different departments. Let's look at some of the features of auto-attendants.

Custom Greeting Messages

People can have bad days and sore throats that affect the way they answer a call. Having an auto-attendant eliminates this issue. Custom greetings can be recorded and configured to calls depending on time location etc. Every call is answered with a message that is current and relevant in a welcoming tone.

For example, calls to different branches can be answered with a customized greeting such as, “Thank you for calling the New York offices of Company A”. Similarly, greetings can be customized as per seasonal holidays to include wishes for the same.

Modern auto-attendant softwares like Quicktalk let you personalize your custom greeting messages online in a few clicks with no limits.

Business Information Announcements

Auto-attendants can be used to deliver important messages and announcements. For example, the welcome message could include a note about a shift in office locations or timings. It can also be used to announce and introduce new product launches.

Auto-attendant phone menu (Repeat, Exit, Operator Prompts)

The phone menu is the core feature of an auto-attendant. There are typically three key elements. Firstly, the menu lists departments with the number to be dialed for each extension. This menu may have sub-menus. For example, if the caller enters 1 for Order related queries from the primary menu, a sub-menu could continue as follows;

"For order status press 1To cancel an order, press 2To place a return request, press 3"

In addition, at every level, menus also give the caller an option to repeat the menu or connect directly with an operator.

Call Transfer & Routing Options

Auto-attendants allow calls to be routed in many different ways. Depending on the size of your team and the number of calls handled, calls can be routed to the next available person or on the basis of their skills. Call transfer to mobile is a great option to never miss an important call.

Calls can also be transferred to voicemail for callers to leave a message. This is very useful in the case of large call volumes when agents may not be available to answer a call.

Custom call Routing (CCR) Tree

Auto-attendant menus can also be replaced by a Custom call Routing (CCR) tree. This is a system that designates departments and extensions for call routing. At each stage, they are prompted by a recorded menu. These menus and sub-menus allow them to get specific information.

For example, travel agencies may direct a caller who has selected the option for domestic flights to choose between making a new booking, modifying existing bookings, etc. If they choose to make a new booking, they may be directed to choose their mode of travel and then transferred to a call agent.

The agent will have this information available when he/she speaks to the caller and hence can offer better services.

It is important to plan a CCR tree well or the caller may be trapped in a loop. Along with the length of voice prompts, the most-frequently-used pathways must also be considered.

Business hours settings

Having an Auto-attendant reduces the number of calls that are missed and unanswered. Though it allows calls to be answered 24x7, your call agents may be available only during business hours. These hours can be used to customize the greeting and menu. You may have a different menu between 9 am and 5 pm and for non-business hours.

On hold music

Rather than have the caller listen to a buzzing silence while the call is being transferred, soothing music can be played. On-hold music can be customized. It might be a song or the brand's jingle or a recorded message giving additional information.

Auto-attendant benefits for your business

Auto-attendants are beneficial for businesses of all sizes. Some of the key benefits offered are:

Lower costs

Automating the simple task of answering incoming calls can help businesses lower their operational costs. Firstly, the need of hiring a full-time receptionist is reduced. Hence, the costs of recruitment, training and salaries are reduced. The system is good to go from the moment it is configured and can work 24 x 7 x 365.

Enable more efficient call handling

The trouble with having a person answer all calls is that some calls may get missed while some may be transferred to the wrong department. An auto-attendant addresses both these issues.

Fewer calls are missed and all calls are answered with consistent messaging that directs the caller to choose the appropriate department for their query. Calls can also be transferred to the right department faster. This improves the overall customer experience.

Boost productivity

In addition to routing callers faster to the concerned departments, auto-attendants minimize the chances of misdirected calls. For example, the product team will not get calls related to order cancellations.

Employees only pick up those calls that are relevant to them. They also need to spend less time understanding what the customer needs. This allows them to be more productive.

Offer consistent service

Auto-attendants give your calls a uniform experience every time they call. Each call is greeted with a warm message and handled in the same way. This helps improve the brand image and pleases callers. Even if a call comes in after hours, the caller is greeted warmly and can be directed to leave a voicemail rather than let the call go unanswered. This is especially helpful for businesses operating internationally.

Help announce important changes

Auto-attendant greetings and hold music can be customized. Thus, it becomes an ideal way to inform customers about new policies and changes. For example, you may want to announce new store timings or inform customers about a new collection online. Providing information in this way makes wait time productive and makes customers more aware.

Build a professional image

For growing businesses, first impressions matter. When a prospective customer calls the office, the way in which their call is answered sets the tone for their expectations from the brand. An auto-attendant will always leave a favorable impression – there's no risk of the call being answered by someone who doesn't know how to transfer a call. In the case of small businesses, it gives the impression of a larger more structured team and professional operating procedures.

Fewer spam calls

Lastly, an auto-attendant reduces the number of spam calls received. Bots cannot respond to auto-attendant menus and hence the calls cannot be routed to call agents. Thus, every call that is answered by a human call agent is relevant to the business.

How to set up your auto-attendant phone system in Quicktalk

Set up opening hours

Set up weekly business hours online. You can decide when calls will be redirected to you or your team according to what time it is. In this way, you can create a specific scenario corresponding to when your customer service is open: welcome message, call distribution, call menu… and another scenario corresponding to when you're closed, with a “leave a message” option for example.

Create welcome greetings

Use Quicktalk online studio to personalize your welcome message:

  • Choose a voice that you want to represent your company. It can be a man or woman's voice with several different tone and language options.
  • Write your message. No need to record your own voice, just type your message and click play to listen to it.
  • Select your background music: you can either upload music of your choice or choose among our selection.
  • Play it, save it and you're done!

Distribute calls

Define who is going to take the call. Quicktalk allows you to use 3 types of redirections:

  • Simultaneous: every selected user will be rung simultaneously, the first one who picks up, takes the call. This is often the preferred option to minimize waiting time.
  • Cascading random: the call will be redirected randomly to one of the selected users, if that person doesn't pick up the call, the call is then randomly redirected to another user and so on. This is the preferred option to equally distribute calls among your team.
  • Cascading predefined order: it's the same as cascading random except you can decide which user is going to take the call first, then second, and so on. It's the preferred option if you want to have certain team members specifically in charge of answering calls and still allow other team members to take calls if the first users are unavailable.

Set up a call menu

Quicktalk allows you to set up a call menu, such as “Press 1 to talk to the customer service, Press 2 to talk to a sales rep, Press 3 for opening hours”. For each option, you can distribute the call to the corresponding person on your team, plan an announcement, or give users the option to leave a message.

Play a message when you are closed or not available

When a customer calls outside of your opening hours, you can play a message and allow the user to leave a message or call back later.

Modify your auto-attendant anytime

All your auto-attendant settings can be changed at any time, with no limits and at no cost. Just connect to, go to settings, and save your changes.

Once you're set up, enjoy unlimited calling and call transfer to mobile for 19$ (up to 3 users included).

Also check out these great tips to avoid common mistakes when setting up your attendant system.