Auto Attendant! Is yours friendly to your customers?

Auto Attendant

Auto attendant, do you have it, do you need it, can it make your life easier, and your customer happier?

"Thank you for calling The Very Busy Company. If you know the extension of the person you are calling, you may dial it now. For Sales press 1, for Customer Service press 2, or press 4 for the company directory."

Does your organization use an automated attendant that sounds like this? If so, consider some simple tests, which I include below, to see if you're making it easy for callers to get in touch with you. But first, let's cover some key points about auto attendants.

The auto attendant's purpose is to get callers to the intended person or department quickly and to leave the caller with a favourable impression of your company. If your system is hard to use, you are sending the message that doing business with your company is hard, too!

A well-designed auto attendant must accommodate three categories of callers: (1) people who are not accustomed to using auto attendants; (2) people who are accustomed to using other auto attendants and have preconceived notions about navigating them; and (3) people who call you regularly, know how your system works and want to move through it quickly.

While the auto attendant is often a capability of the system that also controls voicemail, it is a separate function. The auto attendant directs a caller to his destination, while voicemail takes messages.

So sit down, grab a pad and pencil to take notes on what you find and start dialing:

Test #1 - No waiting for a caller who knows the extension of the person he is calling. If callers know how to use the system, they don't want to wait to listen to an announcement. Call into your main telephone number. When the auto attendant answers, dial the extension number of a person in your company using the touchtones on your telephone keypad and without waiting. In the best systems, you immediately hear ringing, indicating the recipient's extension is ringing at the person's desk.

Test #2 - No waiting for a caller who knows the selection number he wants from your auto attendant announcement. If your auto attendant offers options such as "For Sales press 1," callers who have used the system before will not want to wait to listen to an announcement. Call into your system to see if you can press 1 as soon as the call is answered, without waiting to listen to the announcement.

Test #3 - Immediate escape capability by dialing "0." Like it or not, many people don't want to use your auto attendant. For the best service, callers who dial "0" (zero) are immediately sent to a live attendant.

Test #4 - No critical instructions for using your system are left until the end of an announcement. The caller may not know to wait for them. Many auto attendants require that you "press the pound sign (#)" after dialing an extension or entering the first three letters of the person's last name to use the company directory. If a caller who uses other auto attendants encounters yours, he may start pressing touchtone buttons and not wait to listen to the end of the announcement. In this case the caller's request will not be processed. If this occurs in your system, find out what happens to the caller when he fails to enter the "#." Try to get the message to provide this information up front (e.g., "press # after entering the extension of the person you are calling").

Test #5 - Flexible "spell-by-name" function of auto attendant directory (not limiting the caller to three letters). If your auto attendant offers a company directory (and most systems do), call into your system and select the directory option. A typical system may direct you to "enter the first three letters of the last name of the person you are calling." The best systems do not limit you to three letters, but let you keep entering letters until the name is recognized. If your system responds to only three letters, what happens to callers who enter four or more, not waiting to hear the part of the announcement that asks for only three?

Test #6 - No first names in the "spell-by-name" directory. Setting up your auto attendant to mimic the way others function is a good idea. Companies who decide to use "first names" in the company directory because it sounds friendlier often make things difficult for callers. A caller may just wait to hear, "enter the first three letters of ..." and then enter the person's last name, which is how most systems work. In addition, it is more likely that people have the same first name than the same last name. So using first name may reduce the likelihood the caller will get to the right person.

Test #7 - Put the names of the most frequently called people at the front of the directory's list. Some auto attendant directories, upon recognizing a name entered, offer a list of people whose names match. For example, "Brenda Jones. If this is correct press #; if it is not correct press 1." The caller presses "1" and then hears "Michael Jones, if this is correct press #." And so on. If Michael Jones gets many more calls than Brenda does, why make more callers wait to get to his name?

Test #8 - Give the caller the person's extension number for future use. A caller using your auto attendant directory may want to jot down the person's extension. Make sure your directory gives the caller the extension number (e.g., "your call is being transferred to Marisa Longo, extension 103"). Some systems do not.

Test #9 - Make clear to callers what they must do once they get the extension number from the automated directory. This is one area where different manufacturers' auto attendants are not consistent in the way they work. For example, after the caller has successfully spelled the person's last name (or part of it) using touchtones, what is he supposed to do next? Some systems say "Megan Coe, extension 202" and expect the caller to know he has to press "202"; other systems say "I will dial that extension for you now" requiring the caller to do nothing. Still others provide the instruction to press "#" or press "1" to direct your call to the recipient once you have heard the name.

Test #10 - Pretend you are a "neophyte" caller. While many of us are savvy users of auto attendants, many others are not. Pretend you have never encountered one before and carefully listen to the instructions given at each juncture to see if you can follow them. Even better, get someone who truly is a neophyte to try it. Dial a number that is not offered as a selection. Or dial five digits when your system answers even though your company extensions use four digits. Do nothing when answered and see how long it takes for a live person to respond. Enter two letters of the person's name in the directory when you are instructed to enter three letters. Or do the opposite of what the instructions tell you and see what happens. The best systems send callers to a live person for help. The worst systems will announce "Thank you for calling. Good-bye!!" Be sure yours isn't one of them!

We suggest conducting tests both during the day and when your office is closed. Announcements should reflect both daytime and nighttime operation, when staff may or may not be available to answer calls. If a caller presses "0" and hears that his call is being transferred to an attendant, it is important that one be there. (Test #11!) At night, this announcement should be changed to indicate that the office is closed.

You will undoubtedly discover other things about your auto attendant while conducting this test. Jot them down, type up your list, and review it with your system administrator or the company who provides service for your system.

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