An auto-attendant is hardly a jaw-dropping technology that will impress your callers, but it is a kind of business card for your enterprise. After all, you only get one chance to make an excellent first impression, and yours may be in the hands of the receptionist.
And that is what the Auto-Attendant is: a programmable receptionist software that handles your calls for you. It greets your callers and directs them to the correct department or person. There is some technology behind it, but this article isn’t about technology. As I have previously mentioned – an auto-attendant is hardly a technological marvel by today’s standard but a rather helpful tool designed to save you money and avoid the hassle of dealing with an employee receptionist.
An auto attendant is a simple but interactive tool, and like anything in life, this interaction can be good or bad. The quality of interaction does not vary due to using human vs. machine, but you have greater control of the message with the machine. After all, computers don’t have mood swings. Harmful interactions are unhealthy and leave the lasting image and reputational damage to your business.
In this article, we will demonstrate 13 configuration options that deserve special attention when configuring your Hosted PBX:
1. Lengthy introductions or minute-long greetings before offering routes
To put it bluntly, your callers don’t have all day to listen to lengthy instructions before they can pick an option. Most just want to talk to a live person who will not give them a run-around and, hopefully, will not try to sell them something they did not call for.
The average attention span of a caller is 8 seconds, and even that seems high, so keep your prompts short. If you must play back a lengthy instruction, make it available via a separate route of your audio menu. For example, rather than playing your office hours and policies at the beginning of the menu, let them choose an option and listen to it.
It is all about giving your callers what they want faster, so skip the unnecessary monolog about how they’ve reached the best place on Earth. Customers will judge your customer service skills based on how fast they get what they need, not how good you say you are. Simply greet them with a short and sweet welcome, and then provide the routes to what they might like. It wouldn’t just save everyone’s time, but would also make you look like a real professional business!
2. Endless Options
If you believe you can think of a correct route for each type of question your customer might throw at you, think again.
A typical auto-attendant menu is either functional or organizational. A functional menu will route calls based on the caller’s intent or need. An example would be “if you call to make a payment, press one”. An organizational menu will route calls to the department instead. For example, “For sales, press one; for accounting, press two”.
An organizational menu is a good option for smaller companies because the “accounting department” will cover billing, payments, and credits in one route. Most small businesses have one or two core products, so their “sales department” will cover that. Of course, the menu tree can be made more granular to direct callers to people who focus on specific functions. The downside is that the longer you make that menu, the more irritable the client will get when they reach a live person, especially if they get dumped into a holding queue at the end of the menu, which is not uncommon in customer service departments.
Functional menus route calls based on the caller’s needs, but these menus are also notorious for driving callers up the tree when that need is missing. If you don’t believe me, try calling your bank to update your business account’s mailing address. Pro tip: Take Xanax before you do.
Even if you list all the specific options and departments, the caller’s reason may not fit any of them, nor will they have the patience to listen to your guesses. Give them an option to talk to a human right away or to leave the menu by dialing “0”. Trust me, this “0” option is the most appreciated choice, especially if it gets your caller to a live agent, regardless of whether they can help you or not. At the very least, they can direct your call to the correct department or give you a direct number.
3. Poor choice of music or message on hold
When is the best time to approach the client with the new service message? That would be when they’re waiting for your support agent to become available, correct? Nope. Most national ISP’s crack marketing teams use this approach. Indeed, why not upgrade my Internet service when I call in to report a service outage?
The point being, if you’re going to play music or voice messages, ask yourself – will this be appropriate for the circumstance?
Some believe that broadcasting a radio channel in place of on-hold music is a swell idea. It isn’t. With the broadcast of third-party content, you lose control over the message. So, what is the right approach? How about using an appropriate message or avoiding placing people on hold altogether? Automatic queue callbacks are also great if you are short on agents. Just keep customer hold times to an absolute minimum.
If you must use music on hold, match it with the call route. Most PBXs (ours included) allow you to set different hold music for each user or queue. Don’t use the same message/music for support and sales queues.
Stay away from loud music and pushy messages. It is not cool to play a background of car horns or an annoying ad for your callers to wait in. If you are an opera fan, please, do not use operas either. A better way to show your class is by offering prompt, excellent service.
4. Unnatural language selection
Diversity and inclusion are great. And generally, I am all for multilingual auto-attendant menus. The trick is to make the language selection quick. You might think that offering a 10-second greeting in 3 languages is a fantastic idea, but trust me – it’s not.
A 10-second greeting in two languages is a 20-second greeting. Move your greetings down the menu after prompting for a language selection. “Thank you for calling Best Medical Transport. Our rules and options have changed, so we want you to pay attention to these changes”, followed by the same message in another language is sure to annoy a client. How about “You’ve reached Best Medical Transport: to continue in English press 1, Spanish, press 2, French, press 3.”
If your client base is multilingual (which is not always the case), making your callers feel welcome in their language is not a bad idea. Your auto-attendant must allow callers to select their preferred language in such a case. It is one of the advantages auto-attendants have over live secretaries who may not speak foreign languages. Language choice is even more critical if your company is global. Make sure you offer a natural language selection appropriate for geographical areas.
Generally, language selection is a necessary evil. It adds an extra step that you should try to avoid where possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer an auto-attendant prompt in another language, just that sometimes it’s better to provide dedicated DIDs (phone numbers) for each language menu.
5. An automated greeting in a flat and unemphatic tone
Though it may seem surprising to some, humans still prefer to talk to a human being than a machine. When possible, one should use a professional to record the automated greeting instead of the speech synthesizer that Stephen Hawking used. I’d have to admit that modern speech synthesizers are notably better and allow you to program a variety of intonations. Nevertheless, you are better off hiring a professional voiceover specialist for the amount of time you will spend configuring all those options.
And while you are at it, try to strike an appropriate empathic mood. An overly energetic and cheerful greeting isn’t a good way to greet people in a funeral home, hospice, or cemetery.
6. A long sales pitch before the menu
While pitching services to captive audiences seems like a great idea, it has all the chances of turning your callers away. If this is your goal, you will get what you ask for. Playing marketing messages to callers holding in the agent queue is arguably the worst form of spamvertising.
Some marketers treat their phones like a convenient marketing tool. It isn’t. PBX is a voice communication tool. Business calls usually happen for specific reasons to address particular questions. For everything else, there are websites. So don’t waste your already cranky caller’s time with a long sales pitch and try to put them on the routes they’ve called for as quickly as possible.
7. Give them their position in the holding queue
One thing that can make or break a business’ image is how it values its customers’ time. Take the time to enable periodic announcements of the caller’s position in the holding queue. Based on those announcements, let them guesstimate the holding time and decide whether they want to remain on hold. Trust me: no one wants to stay on hold, no matter which music or message is playing.
If, however, the hold is unavoidable, don’t leave them to steam and puff in silence. Some sort of appropriate audio feedback (no, not a looping marketing message) is going to give your caller a reason to stay on that call.
Again, if the option is available, enable automatic queue callback instead of putting callers on hold altogether. Generally, just make the customers feel that their time is valued and that the business is prioritizing its customers. People tend to appreciate that type of effort and respond in kind silently.
8. Unexpected hang-up
An auto-attendant is a program that runs an announcement loop. If you are talking to a robot, you would always want to be the one deciding when that conversation needs to end, not leave that decision up to the robot.
Ensure that your navigation does not end in a disconnect and always provide a route to the upper-level menu. Humans make mistakes, and that includes your customers using your auto-attendant system. So, suppose the caller accidentally picks the wrong option. There should be an easy way to return to the previous menu rather than disconnecting and starting over. That’s just common sense.
9. Disconnected call after some wait time
Here’s a question. Who doesn’t like being put on hold for 15 minutes only to end up with a dropped call? I get to feel quite special when the call gets dropped after a long wait in the queue. The kind of special that would keep me from calling back.
It’s simple: Don’t be sloppy and test your routing logic thoroughly. Unless you are bent on turning away customers for some unfathomable reason, there’s no excuse for such mistakes. Such mistakes speak volumes about you as a business and can irreparably damage your reputation. You don’t want that.
10. Giving customers no way to leave a message or send them to a full voicemail
In addition to making your callers feel special in the wrong way, you can add insult to injury by sending them to a full voice mailbox that no longer takes messages. That in itself will tell your callers a thing or two about the way you conduct business and how important their call is to you.
Ideally, an auto-attendant is only supposed to connect a customer to a live person, but that is not always possible. The least you can do is make sure the destination voicemail is never full.
11. Leaving customers high and dry on off-days and hours
Maybe you think a billing question is not critical to business operations and can be answered on the next business day. I tend to agree, but in my experience, plenty of people feel that your accounting team exists solely to answer billing questions on a Christmas holiday. So, for those sort of callers, here’s a surefire way to keep them guessing when that holiday begins and ends: keep your office hours a secret. That was a joke, of course.
Seriously though, your business hours should never be a secret. A properly configured auto-attendant system would notify customers when callers should expect a voicemail, especially during holidays or after business hours. It should also inform them when the business reopens and what time they can call back. Add a holiday greeting to boost customer satisfaction and earn some brownie points. These small touches will show that your business is alive and kicking, just not at that particular time.
12. Misdirecting callers to a route unrelated to their query
This section does not necessarily imply taking a support call and routing it to sales. That would be too simple. What you can do is route a call to a customer service person that can help you resolve a minor support issue WHILE trying to upsell you with other products. It happens to me when I call Comcast or AT&T. “And while I am reviewing your account, let me ask you: why are you satisfied with the 30Mbps speed of your Internet service at home when we have a 50Mbps option only for $5 more?”
Technically that call was not misdirected, and they will help me after I politely say “no, thanks” three or four times rebuking these upgrade offers. Anticipating this run around makes me cringe each time I need to call them.
Ultimately, employing this classic bait and switch approach is an ethical matter that each business will need to decide based on their priorities.
Like receptionists and front desk staff, your auto-attendant is often the first point of contact between the customer and your business. You can put together your auto-attendant configuration in minutes, but it is best to think it through carefully. It can have a direct impact on your business’s reputation and, in turn, your business’s bottom line.
DLS offers a range of telephony and communication solutions, including cloud-based unified communications, hosted PBX, and virtual phone systems with unlimited auto-attendants, customization, VoIP integration, and support.