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Auto Attendant vs IVR: 10 Key Differences Explained

Cameron Coward
Man looking at a paper document while on the phone.
Auto attendants and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems both provide automated phone call functionality, but serve two very different purposes. In this article, we examine the key differences between an auto attendant and an IVR system to help you understand which will suit your needs best.

While searching for automated phone systems, you may have come across the terms “auto attendant” and “IVR.” Many people use these terms interchangeably, but the two systems are quite different.

Both will work with VoIP services, but knowing which to choose will save your company money. So, it's important to understand their purposes and features.

Here are 10 key differences between auto attendant and IVR systems.

» Want to build a robust communication infrastructure? Check out our top picks for the best VoIP providers and services.

1. Auto Attendant Replaces Human Receptionists

Auto attendant services are designed to replace human receptionists and save companies money. They can provide basic information, such as store hours and direct calls to individuals or departments.

But they cannot help callers with requests that require user-specific information or complex logic. The primary purpose of an auto attendant is to direct a caller to the appropriate human representative, who will then handle the caller’s request.

2. IVR Replaces Human Customer Service Representatives

IVR systems can perform the same functions as auto attendants. But they are far more powerful and can replace customer service representatives.

An IVR system for a bank can, for example, tell a customer their current balance. And an online retailer’s IVR system can look up orders and provide shipping information.

These IVR systems can even perform actions based on user requests, like canceling orders or transferring balances between accounts.

3. Auto Attendant is More Affordable than IVR

Because an auto attendant’s job is more straightforward, it is also more affordable. Many cloud-based auto attendant services cost less than a phone line and include additional functionalities, like SMS (Short Messaging Service) capability and call recording.

In comparison, IVR is much more expensive.

The cost to implement an IVR system depends on desired capabilities, user requirements, and existing infrastructure. Interested parties will need to consult with salespeople to determine the cost of an IVR system that fits their needs.

» Here are 10 VoIP features your small business needs.

4. IVR Can Access Databases

IVR systems are able to access databases. Through voice commands, touch tone interaction, or SMS queries, callers provide identification information that the IVR system uses to locate their records in a database.

IVR systems can also modify database records according to caller requests, eliminating the need for customer service representative assistance in common scenarios. For a bank, these records can include account balances, transactions, personal contact information, and more.

In most cases, a company can also use these databases for its other systems to ensure that information is always kept up to date.

5. Auto Attendant is Easier to Set Up than IVR

Another benefit that comes from the simplicity of an auto attendant is the ease of setup. On-site auto attendant systems are available, but cloud-based auto attendant services are more common today and very easy to implement.

Office managers without a technical background can take advantage of simple interfaces to create a directory structure that links to a dedicated VoIP phone line—like the ones JustCall provides.

When necessary, the auto attendant can direct calls to on-site phone lines.

6. IVR Requires Expert Setup and Maintenance

Due to the complexity of these systems, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all IVR solution.

For an IVR system to work at its full potential, it has to integrate with a company’s existing infrastructure. This integration requires expert oversight and maintenance.

IVR providers will supply these experts at a cost. But a company can also choose to utilize its own personnel. Either way, this represents a significant expense you won't have with an auto attendant.

7. IVR Can Handle Logic, While Auto Attendant Can't

IVR does more than access database records—it can also understand logic.

An IVR system setup for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) call center could, for example, understand that a caller wants to cancel their service but keep it active until a specified date.

Once again, the benefit comes from reducing caller interaction with customer service representatives, which saves money.

» These IVR call center software systems can help you deal with large call volumes.

8. Auto Attendant Doesn’t Require Dedicated Hardware

By utilizing cloud-based auto attendant services, companies can eliminate the need for on-site hardware. They wouldn’t need servers, switches, or even landline phones.

This is specifically useful for companies that have technicians in the field and want to keep office expenses to a minimum. In these cases, an auto attendant would operate in the cloud and use VoIP to transfer calls to technicians’ cell phones when needed.

9. IVR Requires Back-End Hardware and Software

IVR exists at the opposite end of the spectrum and requires significant hardware and software for its own processing and the databases it needs to access. These databases don’t need to reside on-site, but they have to exist somewhere.

Companies can also use cloud servers. IVR providers can host databases, though most companies will want to integrate their IVR system with their existing databases.

10. IVR Can Be a Security Vulnerability

If you're interested in implementing IVR, you should know that it can be a potential security vulnerability.

Because an IVR system accesses databases, it can provide sensitive information to bad actors. And if the IVR system can modify database records, then those bad actors might be able to do real damage through a phone call.

But, this can be avoided by implementing caller identification.

Choosing the Right System

If you only need a system to direct calls and provide static information, then an auto attendant is the obvious choice. An auto attendant is easy to set up and also cost-effective. Plus, it requires minimal oversight and maintenance.

But, if you need a system that can interact with callers, then IVR is your only choice. IVR is more expensive to set up and maintain, but it will offer far more functionality because it can connect to databases.

For companies that need to handle a lot of similar caller requests, IVR can save significant money in the long term by offloading the work of customer service representatives.

Keep in mind that some providers, like RingCentral, offer both auto attendant and IVR services.

» Not sure which VoIP phone system suits your needs? Take a look at the best VoIP auto attendant features.

Cameron Coward
Cameron Coward writes for Top10.com and is a former mechanical designer, tech enthusiast, writer and published author. His experience as a tech writer spans 15 years, during which time he has written thousands of articles for a number of leading publications.