Archive for the ‘Auto-Attendant’ Category

Night Answer Options

Having your phone system change the greeting when you’re closed is a very customer-friendly thing to do.

Think about this scenario: It’s 5:05 p.m. You need to order parts, so you pick up the phone, call the parts company, and your call is answered by its Auto-Attendant. It then puts you in queue for the parts department, and you wait. And wait. And wait.

Pretty soon it dawns on you that the parts company probably closed at 5 p.m. Or was it 6 p.m.? You simply don’t know! Do you continue to hold, not wanting to lose your place in the queue? Or are you the only fool holding while the phones ring incessantly in an empty building?

The only way to keep your customers from experiencing this situation is to use a night answer option. Program it to let your callers know instantly that you are closed. You can then give them options to leave a voicemail, route to specific people’s voicemail boxes, or even direct them to the web.

Some systems will enable you to count calls that come in after hours, so you can determine whether adjusting your hours would bring you more business. Don’t leave your customers in the dark! If you’re closed, let them know, and provide them with ways or times they can engage with you.

Repeat the greeting automatically

Set up your Auto-Attendant to repeat the greeting automatically, and if you can’t do that, select an option key for callers to press that will replay the message. Callers may miss the option they need the first time, and not realize it until later. Some systems automatically route the call to the operator if you don’t press anything. But don’t automatically route the call until after the message has repeated at least once.


I’ve heard Auto-Attendants that disconnect the call if you don’t make a selection quickly enough! Talk about not being customer-friendly! A recorded voice saying, “Goodbye,” simply because I was thinking about the option I needed, or didn’t realize I had reached the end of the menu, is a great way to lose a customer!

Make it easy to reach a live person

Always. Always. Always give the option for your caller to reach a live person. Make it easy. Don’t hide behind your phone system, forcing callers to do things the way you want them done. I can guarantee you that at some point, a customer will call with some issue that doesn’t fit neatly into your pre-programmed options, and connecting that caller to a live person will resolve the issue with less frustration on his or her part.

You can resolve this situation with the standard press “0” for the operator option, or by some other unique way. (“If you want to reach someone, anyone, just press 0, and we’ll be happy to talk to you!”)

Think about who should take those calls. It depends on your business structure, but consider not sending those calls to a receptionist or secretary. Think about it….What this caller needs hasn’t been addressed by any of the options in your Auto-Attendant. Do you think the secretary is qualified to handle the caller’s request? Likely not.

That doesn’t mean route the call to the business owner or president, but at least send those calls to a person (or group of people) who has the power to make things happen, answer in-depth questions, or otherwise generally make customers happy (which is, after all, the point of your business…isn’t it?)

Having said that, when calls come in that are simple, but will take more than a minute to answer, have someone designated to receive that call. There may be calls that come in that can be handled by the secretary. Have a plan simply to say, “Mrs. Jones will be glad to help you with that. May I transfer you directly to her?”

Always give the option to reach a live person in some way. Your customers will thank you for it!

Put the Most Popular Option First

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the Auto-Attendant and On-Hold messages at some companies. I mean, who are they kidding? Is your call really “very important to us”?


The Caller

By Frank Halliwell

“Good morning! Thanks for calling us!

We’re pleased to hear from you!

Your call’s important to us

So we’ve placed you in a queue.

Please find your account number and

Be sure it is correct.

It’s twenty digits long and if you

Mis-type, I’ll reject.

I’ll lead you through the whole routine

Please use your touch type phone.

Press eight and follow with the hash

After you hear the tone.

If you are a new client here.

Press two, if old, press three.

Press four in case we’ve done something

With which you disagree!

You have pressed four, please wait a moment

While I transfer you.

And please enjoy, while we play you

A symphony or two!

Our staff are all too busy now

To talk to such as you.

Your call is so important that

We’ve placed you in a queue.”

Time passes and the music lingers

On, and bye and bye.

My cheek and ear go fast asleep,

My wrist gets R.S.I.

But wait! It may be there is hope!

I hear a ringing sound,

At last a human voice is heard

After the runaround!

“Good morning, this is Ladies wear

And may we help somehow?

Complaints?. Oh! Just hang on a tick

I’ll transfer you right now!…”

“Good morning! Thanks for calling us!

We’re pleased to hear from you!

Your call’s important to us

So we’ve placed you in a queue.

Recently I was researching the features of a customer’s phone system at the manufacturer’s website, and the manufacturer had this to say about its On-Hold message:


The InterStellar Phone System gives you the opportunity to have music playing while a caller is on hold. Best of all you can insert interruptions during each recording in order to play a message.


You’ve experienced this kind of On-Hold situation whether or not you remember it. You’re On-Hold, listening to the music or messaging, when all the sudden “click.” The music is interrupted, and hope springs up within you that your call is going to be answered. Only to have your hopes dashed by the message, “Your call is important to us; please continue to hold.”

Can you say, “Disappointment”?

I was On-Hold with a company last week that interrupted its On-Hold music with this reminder that I was On-Hold every ten seconds! Never do this to your callers.

Just because you use an Auto-Attendant doesn’t mean it has to be a poor caller experience.

Want to know what your caller’s experience is like? Try a Caller Experience Evaluation service. It’s like climbing inside your customer’s head and hearing your business from his perspective. Very informative!

A recent client who used this service, gave this feedback: “Thanks for getting the report to me as fast as you did. I will be correcting a lot of the concerns you pointed out. Thanks again!”

Don’t give your callers the run-around.

Always Give the Option Before the Number!

As I approached the elevators to head to my fourteenth floor hotel room recently, I was met with the elevator selector pictured here. Someone on the design team of this elevator company felt 100 percent positive that this selector was designed clearly so I would have no trouble at all in choosing whether I wanted to go up or down. You may think so as well.

But look closely…

If you wanted to go Up, do you push the button that the Up arrow is pointing to? Or the button beside the Up arrow? It kinda looks a little circular to me, and that could get frustrating!

Here’s what this elevator selector has to do with phone systems. Too often, the Auto-Attendant is set up on the fly by whoever is installing the phone system. Sure, the installer has tried to get the business owner or manager to tell him what options to program, and what to say, but the truth is, the business owner is thinking “Phone System” at that point, not “Caller Experience.” See, those are two different parts of the brain!

How many times have you called a phone system that sounds like this: “Thank you for calling XYZ Corp, where we really value your business! If you know your party’s four-digit extension, you may enter it at anytime. Please press 1 for Sales. Please press 2 for Service. Please press 3 for Parts. Please press 4 for Accounting. Please press 5 for Human Resources, or press 0 to reach an operator. Press 9 to repeat this message.”

That’s even hard to write, must less listen to over the phone! And here’s why: When you give the number before the option, I have to hold that number in my head while I listen to the option, and I have to analyze whether or not that’s the option I need. After listening above, I’ve got a total of seven options in my head, and they are all jumbled together. Because I’m not calling to push a number…I’m calling to go to a department.

If you list the department first, followed by the option (“To reach sales, press 13”) the department name, “clicks” with what I’m looking for in my head, making it a very easy choice to press 1. If I don’t need the Sales department, I can simply forget about that option altogether, and move on to the next one.

There’s a time to answer the phones with a live person. And there’s a time to use an Auto-Attendant. (Do you know which one to use when?)

When you decide to use an Auto-Attendant, make sure the options are clear, and easy for your caller to understand—not confusing like our elevator. If you confuse your callers, they won’t know which way is up! (and they will go for the last option they hear by pressing 1″!)

So what does your Auto-Attendant sound like from the caller’s perspective?

Repeat your Auto-Attendant options

When you have reached the end of your options, allow the caller to repeat, but let the caller know that is what is happening. You can give him the choice to repeat (“To repeat these options, press *”), or you can automatically repeat them (stay on the line to hear these options repeat).

Sometimes people do need to hear the options again, and simply to send them to an operator won’t serve them or your business the most effectively.

No matter what, NEVER simply disconnect the call after the options are played! That is a great way to make sure people never call you back!

Let callers know the number of options upfront. (“Please choose from the following six options.”)

Another way to manage your caller’s expectations is to let him know at the very beginning, how many options you will give him. That would sound like, “Please select from the following six options.” This information allows callers to know how long they’ll have to listen, and how many choices they need to keep in their heads before they choose a selection.

IVR and Auto-Attendant Best Practices

“Please choose from the following six options.”

When designing the options for your IVR or Auto-Attendant, make sure they match your customer’s expectations. Presenting a caller with four or five clear, concise options will allow him to navigate through your system quickly, without wasting time waiting to hear options he is not interested in.

Using only four or five options will likely take some extra thought on your part to make sure you are expressing the options in a way callers will find helpful and convenient.

Recently, I had an experience with a system concerning options. I was trying to reach one brand division of a large holding company, for tech support on a tool. I found its number on the Support section of its website, which lists the company’s eight divisions. However, the Auto-Attendant only listed six divisions! (Two of which sounded very similar) And worst of all, the one brand division I wanted wasn’t even listed. Now, what was I to do? I guessed, selected option 1, and got lucky that the company combined its tech support in one place!

So, what could the company have done to make its phone options more caller-friendly? If in fact the two support options are combined, it can go ahead and express that in the greeting. Instead of saying “For Victor, press 1,” the company could have easily created “For Victor and Brand X, press 1.” Then I would have known which option to choose.

In this case, the company had the choice to include Brand X as a seventh option, to combine it with the first option, or to leave it out all together. Unfortunately, the company chose the last option. With a little more thought, it could have not only kept its options short and concise, but it could have saved me the frustration of having to call back a couple of times to guess the right option!

The ringing phone or the waiting customer?

How do you decide whom to help?

How many times has this happened to you? Your front door opens, and in walks a new customer. At the same moment, the phone begins to ring. In a lot of small businesses, answering the phone and helping the walk-in customer both fall to the same person. Do you let the phone ring? Or do you hold up your hand to the customer, in the unspoken language of “wait,” and answer the phone? Which customer is more important?


Making both feel important

That’s right…both, and it’s your job to make both feel important. So how do you do that? First of all, have a backup plan for you phones. It doesn’t matter if it’s a customer walking in the door, or one more line ringing that you can’t answer, you need to have a backup plan for your phones. Tip: A busy signal isn’t a backup plan! If you’ve chosen to live answer every call…if that’s your effort, and you’ve determined that is the best approach, it still will be a good idea to have a well-designed Auto-Attendant as a backup plan. At some point you will need it.

The easiest thing is to let the phone ring to your backup plan while you help the walk-in customer. The live person can see your actions; the caller can’t. The caller doesn’t know whether or not you are deferring her. The walk-in customer does. So help the walk-in customer. Let the call go to your backup plan.

That doesn’t just mean letting the call go to your normal voicemail that says, “Sorry. We’re closed.” If your Auto-Attendant is a backup for a primary live answer, you can design it to help the customer. Here are some tips to include in the greeting:

  • Let the caller know your staff is busy.
  • Give the caller options to reach people or departments for which he may be calling. You may not need to handle his call at all!
  • Provide a voicemail option if the caller really would rather leave a message. But give him some kind of promised follow-up time for his message. (“We promise to call you back within the next two hours.”)
  • Ask the caller to hold (and if your system supports it, give him the option to wait in queue). If your phone system doesn’t support a caller waiting in queue, you could answer the phone and ask him to hold. But make sure you wait for the answer! The caller may just need to transfer to another person, so you can quickly handle that for him without neglecting the walk-in customer. It really is a juggling act!


Be confident of your backup plan

Test your backup plan. Make sure that if you’re on the phone, calls will be handled properly. Nothing is worse than “thinking” it works, when it really doesn’t. Or it sounds poor. Or it doesn’t provide the options you thought it did. Test your backup plan. It’s not a “plan” unless it’s been tested!

Thank you for calling the FTC…

I love well designed phone system menus.

Unfortunately, the Caller Experience when calling the Federal Trade Commission is not one of those well designed systems.

My main complaint is this:
After listening to the entire Auto-Attendant menu (which is quite confusing in itself!), it gives the option “To repeat this menu, press *”. What happens when you press *?
“Thank you for calling…goodbye!”

Have you tested your phone system lately? Do you know what your customers experience everyday when calling your company?

Having options listed in your message that don’t match up with your phone system programming is extremely frustrating to your callers.

Farther down in the Auto-Attendant tree:
“You have selected to hear information about ______. If this is not what you wanted, please press 0 to hear the entire list of subjects available.”

Pressing 0 yields this encouraging message:
“Sorry, no one is available to help you right now. Goodbye!”

It’s tempting to pin this inefficiency on the fact that the FTC is a government office, and therefore not too concerned about the Caller Experience. After all, there is no competition, right?

But far too often, we are calling and testing business with these same types of issues. Companies that really do care about doing business with you…they’ve just overlooked some very important areas of customer interaction.

So take a moment now and try your Auto-Attendant options. Do they send your call where it says it’s sending you?

10 Rules of Auto-Attendants (Part 10)

Here we are at the final post in this series of “10 Rules of Aut0-Attendants”…

But just because this is the last rule, doesn’t mean there aren’t others. If you’ll listen, you’ll probably come up with some more additions on your own. If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

This rule applies almost more to On-Hold messages than to Auto-Attendants. Both of these areas of phone messaging need to focused, concise, and clear.

Without further ado…Melanie Polkosky’s 10th Rule of Auto-Attendant design(From “The Hooptedoodle of Phone“):

10. Try to leave out the part that users tend to ignore: Think of what you ignore when you’re talking on the phone: long, extended stories that meander around, spiraling off into subplots and minor characters, taking up your precious time. What the speaker is doing is perpetrating a monologue where a dialogue was supposed to exist. I’ll bet your mind wanders through most of it.
And, like Leonard, my most important rule sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

If users will ignore it, there is no sense in having it in there. You just need to determine which parts they will ignore!

It’s easy really…callers ignore what isn’t relevant or helpful to their goal.

Sometimes businesses want to fill up the messaging with things that the business cares about, rather than what the caller cares about.

If your messaging doesn’t pass the “so what?” test, you probably need to have it re-written.

If it sounds like every other company out there, it probably needs to be rewritten.

Try delighting your callers instead!

It’s been fun sharing these 10 points with you. Many thanks to Melanie Polkosky.

If you want to learn more about your Caller Experience, visit


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