I’ve come to think that one of the most under-appreciated features of a hosted VoIP system is the auto attendant – sometimes known as a “virtual receptionist.” It will greet callers and route calls consistently, courteously and efficiently at any time of day or night.

All types of businesses are realizing the many benefits of this exceedingly powerful tool. They’re saving on payroll costs (no need to hire a receptionist) and freeing up workers (like sales staff) who will no longer waste time routing calls but spend their valuable time growing the business. Deploying a well-planned auto attendant creates satisfied customers who reach the right person in the company faster and easier than ever before.

So, what are some of the best practices when it comes to implementing your auto attendant?

Short & Sweet

Your greeting should not last longer than 30 seconds. If you think that is too quick to say what you want to say – stare at a clock for thirty seconds to appreciate how long that really is. Imagine, then, a potential new customer trying to reach you during that greeting and go back and edit your greeting to 30 seconds or less.

Do’s

  • Start with a brief welcome that confirms for the caller they’ve reached your business.
  • Next, let callers know they can extension dial to reach their party at any time.
  • List the most commonly used options first and limit choices to no more than five or six.
  • Present the option description before the option number – e.g., “For Customer Support, press ‘5’.”
  • Include a ‘general’ option for ‘any other questions’ so no caller is left without a selection.
  • Close the greeting with a quick thank you.

Don’ts

  • Don’t say ‘Please’ before every option. It wastes time and becomes an annoyance to callers.
  • Don’t read a list of names and individual extensions to dial. This is too much for callers to hear and likely would violate the 30-second rule.
  • Don’t ask callers to hang up and dial an outside number. You may present the number, but provide an option to route the call directly.
  • Don’t try to offer an option for every possible call scenario. Use intuitive labels (e.g., sales, service, billing, etc.) and offer options that will address 80% of all calls.
  • Don’t present the ‘general’ or ‘operator’ option first or callers will often select that without waiting for what would better serve them.

Consider

  • Using an option that routes to an ‘announcement’ for things like directions, schedules, program information, etc.
  • Routing callers to Hunt Groups and/or Call Queues which ring groups of workers (e.g., sales department) at once ensuring responsiveness.
  • A ‘repeat menu’ option at the end for callers to review if necessary.
  • A different greeting for after hours, if applicable, that may alert callers you are closed and routing that drops directly to voice mail.

An auto attendant will be the face of your business and often the first impression you’ll give a potential customer. You would spend time with a new receptionist answering your phone to ensure it’s done right – so be sure to spend time planning your auto attendant. Done right you’ll find it’s the best receptionist you’ll ever have.