Auto Attendant – What to Avoid When Setting Up Your Office’s PBX

For better or worse, the days of the office receptionist are gone. Very few offices today have dedicated staff whose sole job is to answer telephones, field questions from clients and customers, and redirect the callers to their desired destination. Technology has replaced the traditional receptionist, and today most businesses rely on some form of auto attendant to manage their incoming calls. In many ways this has been a boon to business, particularly to small and medium sized enterprises who may not have had the financial resources to expend on staff whose sole purpose was to man the phone lines. But automated attendants can have a down side, and customers and clients can easily be put off by a complicated menu that ultimately confuses and/or irritates. Ideally, a business’ auto attendant phone system should make communication easier for both the caller, and the company. Unfortunately, many businesses adopting an auto attendant for their phone system, or more technically a private branch exchange (PBX), fall prey to the most common mistakes. Let’s look at a few of these mistakes, and ways to avoid them.

Don’t Bombard Your Callers With Too Many Options

The ultimate goal of every business is customer satisfaction, and it is important to remember that the first contact many people will have with you and your staff is via the telephone. First impressions are vital, even when that first impression is an automated attendant. If you bombard your callers with too many options, or with an overly complicated phone menu, you are likely to end up with discouraged and frustrated customers. Consider the major departments of your business, and how they relate to the average customer. Ignore for a moment those departments that will likely have little or no interaction with the public, such as legal, advertising, and research and development. Concentrate first on those departments that are most directly linked to customer service, such as sales, billing inquiries, and customer support. These should comprise the main menu of your auto attendant, and should be listed in order of priority, 1 being the most common customer request and so on down the line. Departments that have no direct contact with your customers can be relegated to a secondary menu, or you may even wish to put them on a separate phone line.

Don’t Make the Caller Wait

We’ve all experienced the long wait that can come with an over optimized auto attendant. Nothing is worse than sitting through twenty or more options waiting for the most relevant, and realizing that you’ve either missed the prompt you wanted, or entirely forgotten half of the list. Keep your list of options short and to the point, and give your callers the opportunity to input their selection at any time. Don’t make your callers wait until the end of the menu. With a long list of possible options, it’s easy for your customers to forget the prompt they needed by the time they are asked to make their selection. It is also important to always include an opt out, or a “speak with a representative” option. Callers to your customer service line are looking for a solution to a specific need, and they may not know how their questions relate to the predefined menu options.

Music and Advertising

The dreaded holding pattern. Businesses will commonly use ads, music, or a combination of both to fill the time when customers are waiting on the line. If you are running ads during the holding pattern, they should be either for the services you offer, or for businesses related to your industry. Music is the go to standby for passing the time while customers are on hold, but it’s important to give some thought to your choice of music. Classic rock and roll might be suitable for a car dealership, but is not necessarily appropriate for Doctor’s office. Tailor your choice of music to your customer base, and watch the volume. No one enjoys ear splitting music while they are holding for a representative.

Auto attendant phone systems are becoming standard procedure for many businesses. While it is a feature that can greatly benefit your business, it can also create an unwanted barrier between you and your customer base. By taking some time to avoid these common missteps, you can ensure that your auto attendant will be a boon to both you and your customers.


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