6 Keys to an Effective Auto Attendant

When it comes to contacting a business for the first time, a recent study from Software Advice found that almost half (48%) of respondents still prefer a phone call.

The same study also underscored that, when it comes to a business’ use of an auto attendant, you need to get it right. — 42% of survey respondents said they would take their business elsewhere after a frustrating auto attendant experience.

When designed properly, auto attendants help manage incoming calls and add a professional touch to phone interactions—but when poorly designed, they can be a significant annoyance for customers.

To clarify what counts as good auto attendant design, we surveyed consumers on how auto attendants impact their perceptions of businesses.

We also called small and midsize businesses (SMBs) across the country to explore their use of auto attendants. This report will help other SMBs discover how to design and program auto attendants that enhance customer loyalty.

Key Findings:

  • Auto attendant design is critical for customer retention: 42 percent of consumers surveyed say they’ll take their business elsewhere after a frustrating experience with an auto attendant.

  • Auto attendants have a significant impact on consumers’ first impressions of a business, as 48 percent of respondents say phone is their preferred method for contacting a business for the first time.

  • The top pain points reported with auto attendants are long introductions (29 percent) and too many options (28 percent), suggesting that businesses should strive for brevity and simplicity in greeting and menu design.

  • To avoid these pain points, SMBs should try to keep introductions under three seconds long (as does 58 percent of our sample) and menus shorter than five options (as does 59 percent).

  • Many SMBs are using auto attendants to replace receptionists during normal business hours to save money—a trend that is especially common in the property management, retail, banking and health care industries.

Auto attendants play a significant role for many organizations. These software applications, which route incoming callers to the proper extension, often serve as the primary customer-facing element of a business.

Effectively Designed Auto Attendants Can Help Drive Sales.

Poorly Designed Auto Attendants Can Scare Away Customers.

Drawing upon the data gathered during the survey, it was determined that customers are likely to respond positively to auto attendants that adhere to a specific design philosophy.

You can use the 6 Keys listed below as guidelines to avoid the major pain points that callers can encounter:

1. Keep introductions under three seconds. Long introductions have more potential to annoy your customers than to spread brand awareness. Survey respondents identified this as a top pain point when using auto attendants.

2. Keep overall menu length under one minute. In the survey, long menus were listed as a top pain point.

3. Aim for no more than five menu options. Survey respondents cite “too many options” and “important options being listed at the end of the greeting” as top pain points.

4. Provide adequate context for callers to navigate the menu. One-fifth of the survey respondents identified “a lack of sufficient context to select the proper option “ as a major challenge. When listing your options, be as informative and descriptive as possible (while still being brief). This will help callers select the appropriate option.

5. Assign menu options to departments rather than employees. If your organization is large enough to have departments, list options for these rather than individual employees. Additionally, an option to route to a dial-by-name directory can route callers to employee extensions.

6. Provide a “0” Out option. Oftentimes callers are just not sure which department or individual to reach out to. Invite callers to press zero for personal assistance and ensure those calls are answered quickly by a knowledgeable person (not a voice mailbox) during your regular business hours. Afterhours these calls could be routed to a mailbox which is checked during business hours.


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