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Auto Attendants for Business: Design & Customer Impact

Posted by Cherie L. Steffen on June 8, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Cherie L. Steffen

It’s been a few months now, but it was time for us to once again team up with our friends over at Software Advice, a free resource for reviews of VoIP software, to bring you another article stemming from their industry research. Software Advice is a free online tool for researching VoIP software and we bring you their survey-based findings to inform and enable you to make smart telecom business decisions.

By now, you are probably no stranger to our posts on different areas related to telecom. We worked with Software Advice to bring you such articles as Part I & II: What Matters Most in a SIP Trunk Provider, What is the Ideal Phone Setup for Your VoIP System, Free Communications Apps, Switching to VoIP, and Telecommunications Search Trends. And now, we are back with another one for you!

Today we’re looking into auto attendants for business. Surely at some point you’ve called a business and instead of speaking to a human at the other end of the line, you reached a recording prompting you to act. That recording, or voice menu, was the auto attendant. Software Advice collected 675 responses by administering a one-day online survey existing of three questions from random U.S. consumers to gather data for this report. They also called 153 small and midsized business (SMBs) throughout the country to locate auto attendant examples and further analyze that audio data.

Simply put, if an auto attendant is properly designed, it is helpful in managing incoming calls and gives a sense of professionalism. If the design is bad, so is the perception received from the customers. Let’s dig into the nitty gritty so you can learn from others to see how auto attendant can be beneficial, not harmful, to your small and mid-sized businesses. For the full report, click here

Customers Are Turned Away By Auto Attendants with Poor Designs


When auto attendants stick with using a certain design philosophy, customers react better to them. That philosophy comes down to three areas: brevity, simplicity, and logical order. The introductory greetings and/or overall menus have to be short, the menus should have no more than five options from which to choose, and the menu should start with the most important options.


An auto attendant that is designed well is crucial. Those loyal customers you have? You’re likely to lose them if your auto attendant is poor. Almost half of the respondents, 42%, said they’d take their business elsewhere.

Age is something else to consider. Are most of your customers over the age of 54? If so, you will greatly want to pay attention to the design of your auto attendant as they are the ones most likely to take their business somewhere else. If you tend to service a lot of millennials though, they are likely to visit your establishment in person or search for another number if the auto attendant fails them.

Have a Local Business? Your New Customers Would Rather Be Contacted By Phone


If new customers are trying to reach you, nothing beats the telephone. A whopping 48% would prefer to initially contact a business via phone. Looking at the chart, what may be most surprising is that faxing beat social media as a way to contact a business for the very first time. When looking at the ages of the respondents, social media was still popular among those under 35. Any way you consider it, using the telephone is still quite important to customers who may be trying to reach you. The auto attendant might be the first interaction customers have with your business so it’s crucial that you are ensuring it gives the best impression it can.

Long Menus and Intro Greetings Should Be Avoided


One way to not annoy potential customers is to keep your auto attendant’s introduction brief. Short, to-the-point intros would make happy the 29% of respondents who said long introductions are a turn off. Right behind that at 28%, listing too many options is looked upon as unfavorable, too. Finding that right mix of length and options, while still providing enough business information, will be key for you.

Menus Under Five Options and Intros Under Three Seconds Are Best



As stated in the full Software Advice article, “…the potential to annoy your customers outweighs the potential to spread awareness of your brand in an introduction.” Meaning, while you may think that the auto attendant is the perfect opportunity to market your brand to callers, it would behoove you to skip that and stick with a simple greeting. It appears to work best when your introduction is under three seconds and you keep that menu list at five options or under. The survey goes on to show that any more than eight options would not be beneficial as at that point the minds of your callers may start to wander.


Individualized Menu Options for Departments Instead of Employees Should Be Included


When it’s time to program the menu options of your auto attendant, this survey suggests that searching by departments, a dial-by-name directory, and contacting the operator are the top three. If you have a large number of employees, listing their individual names is not a good idea, as it only received 11%.

In Certain Industries, Receptionists Can Be Replaced by Auto Attendants


Depending on the industry of your small or mid-sized business, using an auto attendant to assist your receptionist or cover that position completely may be beneficial. Auto attendants are less expensive, never busy, and are able to work 24/7/365. Some businesses, such as banking, property management and retail, use auto attendants as much as 20%, 17%, and 17% respectively. When looking at the chart, it should be noted that those businesses that have receptionists could possibly still be using auto attendants, though it may be after hours.

After reviewing this survey, it appears that as a small or midsize business, it makes sense to put more effort into making your phone presence a priority which leads to your customer retention and their positive experiences. Keep your SMBs in mind when considering having an auto attendant, as well as the auto attendant’s brevity, simplicity and logical order. What your auto attendant says will essentially say a lot about your business.
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