An automated attendant is also incredibly efficient as it can quickly direct calls to the appropriate parties or departments. However, a telephone auto attendant can do much more as long as the provider offers a full set of features, as with Vonage Business. Not sure which is best for your business needs? Here's all you need to know about auto attendand phone systems and their best features.
What is an Auto Attendant Phone System?
An auto attendant phone system allows businesses to manage their calls more efficiently by automatically routing calls to the correct department or extension. You’ll have used some form of auto attendant software whenever you’ve phoned a business and heard a recorded message asking you to "Press 1 for sales” or “Press 2 for customer service."
A VoIP auto attendant uses Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to answer and route inbound calls. Auto attendants can be hosted by a VoIP provider or run on a business's own VoIP server. Off-site systems are usually more expensive but offer more features and flexibility.
Auto attendants are often used in businesses with multiple departments or locations and provide an alternative to a human receptionist. It does not completely replace the need for a live operator as not everybody can use (or wants to use) automated options. However, automatically transferring the bulk of the calls saves a lot of time and, of course, auto attendants are available 24/7, 365 days a year.
They can be programmed to offer different menu options based on the time of day or day of the week. This allows businesses to customize their call flow. They can also play custom messages to promote special offers, events, or products.
What’s the Difference Between Auto Attendant and IVR?
The terms "auto attendant" and "IVR" are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. IVR (“Interactive voice response”) can perform more complicated tasks and provide a more customized experience than an auto attendant.
What is IVR?
IVR performs the functions of an auto attendant but also has additional features. It’s mainly used by banks and financial institutions, survey companies, call centers, and healthcare settings. It can be used for tasks like retrieving account information or transferring money between bank accounts.
One innovative use of IVR is to monitor adherence to a course of medication. TB patients in developing countries are given a bespoke package of tablets by a healthcare professional who has trained them to take the medicine in a certain order. When opened in sequence, the packet contains a phone number for the patient to call when they have taken their medications. IVR is used to record that the medication has been taken effectively and it then passes the data to healthcare professionals.
Is IVR better than an Auto Attendant?
This depends on what you need from your phone system. Auto attendants are great for simple tasks that don't require a lot of input. They can answer common questions, direct you to the right department, and take messages. An auto attendant's primary aim is to manage the call queue. As a result, its capabilities are limited.
IVR is more sophisticated. The system has greater flexibility as the user is not just limited to picking a number from a list of options. However, if you don’t need that level of sophistication from your phone system, an auto attendant will be a more cost-effective solution.
Choosing an Auto Attendant Phone System
Choosing the right auto attendant phone system is critical because phones are essential to good customer service. According to Microsoft's Global State of Customer Service report, telephones are customers' preferred mode of contact when communicating with a business.
The best auto attendant phone system for your business will depend on several factors, which include:
How many callers need to be accommodated at one time
The hours of operation for your business and whether or not you will need after-hours support
The geographical location of your callers and whether or not they will need to be redirected to different departments or branches
The specific needs of your business, such as bilingual support, call recording, or voicemail transcriptions
Your budget and preferred pricing structure. Some providers charge based on usage, while others have a flat monthly fee.
Whether your VoIP will be hosted onsite or in the cloud.
Make sure the system you select can integrate with your existing VoIP phone system, if you have one. You should also be aware of potential compatibility issues between auto attendants and other business software applications you use, as this could lead to problems later on.
Don't forget about training. Your auto attendant system will only be as good as the people using it. You'll need to invest time training your employees on how to use it properly. Make sure you understand the features and capabilities of the auto attendant system you select. Otherwise, you may be unable to take full advantage of its potential, and your investment could go to waste.
There are many VoIP platforms that offer auto attendant systems. However, in many cases, auto attendant features are not included in the most basic plans. RingCentral includes auto attendant on its Standard, Premium, and Ultimate plans. Vonage Business VoIP offers a multi-level auto attendant on its Premium and Advanced plans.
What are the Common Functionalities of Auto Attendant Software?
Auto attendant systems include a range of typical functionalities:
Call routing is one of an auto attendant system's most basic but essential functions. Directing calls to specific extensions or departments ensures that they’re handled efficiently and effectively.
Voicemail gives callers the ability to leave messages for specific individuals or departments, ensuring that messages are received promptly and recorded accurately.
Call recording is a valuable tool for businesses that need to keep track of customer interactions or phone conversations.
Call blocker is useful if you want to avoid telemarketers or other unwanted callers.
Call forwarding is a vital function for businesses that route calls to different locations or individuals.
Call waiting is a helpful feature if your business receives a high volume of calls.
Three-way calling is a valuable tool for businesses that need conference call functionality or to hold meetings over the phone.
Many of these features are offered as standard, but some may incur an additional monthly cost. You should check which features are included with your VoIP provider before you sign.