Make Your Auto Attendant User Friendly

Automated phone systems can help businesses and customers save time. But too often they frustrate callers with long greetings and a confusing array of options, or they lack a fail-safe way to connect the caller with a human being.

Auto attendant is designed to greet your callers, route calls to the right person and let customers complete routine tasks over the phone via voice response options or dial pad input.

A recent study by Daniel Harris, a market researcher at Software Advice, showed that too often they put up barriers between callers and their goals. Examples include overloading the caller with too much information, or forcing callers to wait too long before giving them an option to speak with an agent.

The study evaluated the voice response systems of about four dozen Fortune 500 companies, collecting data on average wait times, length of option messages and the number of options in the top navigation menu.

“We specifically tried to evaluate systems from a small business owner’s perspective – how can businesses optimize the basics to create a welcoming and helpful presence? Bells and whistles aren’t necessary to make an impact,” said Software Advice spokeswoman Deneece Berg.

Among the report’s many recommendations: keep the system simple and design for customers’ needs, not your own.

For example, the design structure should be no more than five options across in the top menu and no more than three submenus deep. Anything beyond that will just confuse and anger customers.

While some callers find auto attendant menus difficult to use, the report said, younger callers like to books flights or change an address for services without having to talk to an employee.

These tips can help you design a user-friendly auto attendant system:

  • Always start with the customer — who is calling, and what are they calling about?
  • Think hard about which services to automate. The top menu should be limited to five options or less to reduce confusion.
  • Introductory greetings shouldn’t exceed 8 seconds. Avoid marketing messages and legal jargon that bore the caller.
  • Menu option messages should be even shorter, roughly 4 to 6 seconds long.
  • Include self-service options in the top menu.
  • Some customers need to speak with a human being to resolve their problem and you don’t want the system to hang up on them. Place an option to speak to an agent in the top menu, not beyond the fifth option.
  • Callers typically won’t know who they want to talk to by name, but do know what topics they’re calling about, such as hours of operation, technical questions and returns. Design your auto attendant with that in mind.

For more on this topic, check out our Ultimate Auto Attendant Guide.