As technology improves, so does the auto attendant function. Here’s where we’re all headed.
[I usually don't delve into the specifics of the application layer when it comes to telephony - pipes is where I thrive the most. That said, the application part is usually where differentiation is acheived and value is created. This is why when Michael Ventimiglia, writer and editor of GetVoIP, which provides a service directory guide, approached me with a post idea around auto-attendant, I happily accepted it]
Automation is a tightrope to walk. As people respond differently to automation, VoIP features such as Auto Attendant, or AA(s), and Custom Greeting can sometimes be hard to successfully utilize and implement. Yet, despite tribulations, both tools are extremely helpful. Don’t believe me? Well look around. From big companies like Verizon and AT&T to the voicemail box on your mobile phone, Auto Attendants are everywhere in some form or another. Even in the world of fiction these menus and systems are instrumental. For example, look at the Iron Man film franchise. Iron Man’s suit runs off of a personal assistant tech platform, Jarvis. Additionally, this platform also runs Iron Man’s entire home. Much like the inventions laid throughout last year’s Total Recall, many of the personal assistant’s capabilities are romanticized (it is a super hero franchise); however, in this instance the fictional tech actually borrows a lot of function from modern Auto Attendant systems.
The basic function of an Auto Attendant system is to direct and/or transfer callers directly to a specific extension or to a department without a middleman (receptionist or operator). Additionally, these systems are able to utilize message-only and voice menus to provide callers with information such as business hours, company address and directions, FAQ interface, and more. In doing this, Auto Attendants embody a one-stop hub of information for users. While this may not sound as fantastical as running a dream house or super hero suit, AAs utilize this information to carry out a number of key functions, as well as allow for expansive navigation.
Auto Attendants lay out options for callers without a receptionist or operator; however, many systems still offer the operator/live support options. In doing this, the system utilizes voice commands (or keypad commands), which direct the routing/transferring of the call. Users can structure their AA similarly to the “Jarvis” personal assistant platform by setting up voice commands—which enable callers to receive information, navigate directories and menus and more. Additionally, for increased personability, users can employ customized greetings—which are designated for specific callers. In doing this, callers will be identified based on incoming information.
In order to structure an AA with this type of feature, users must option it when setting up the system. Upon initial set up, users can select just about every area of operability and functionality including: language options, information included (hours, location, etc.), after hours greetings, menu navigation, voice commands, keypad designations, etc.
While AAs do allow for elaborate configurations, users should avoid over intricacies. As stated above, automation can be hard to balance; therefore, users should aim to provide accessible menus. In doing this, menus should layout options as concisely as possible. Avoid unnecessary depth that buries operability and options. Instead, focus on establishing a concise directory with clear function. Aside from over intricacies, users should (if applicable) provide operator assistance at the basic level. Callers may not want to deal with automation—they may just want an operator/live support; therefore, AAs should provide that at the preliminary stages of the menu. For example, offer “For an operator press 0,” or “If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time.” Additionally, even if users want automation, too many options and sub menus can confuse, mislead, and ultimately anger users. So again, make options as concise as possible. One of the main advantages of AAs is the image of a bigger business without sacrificing personability. If operator/live support is buried deep within the AA, this advantage is altogether defeated. Many callers equate AAs as a purgatory of sorts. A complex AA menu does nothing to discredit this equating.
While current AA functionality is still a far cry away from Iron Man’s personal assistant platform, users can emulate the advanced system with current AA systems. With extensive features and options, auto attendants are great tools. Despite tricky implementation and negative connotations, AAs can provide an increased level of personability. In using AAs, users are better prepared to handle caller needs on an individual basis. How? Well, if a caller has a Sales question, an AA can direct route a caller to the department. In doing this, customers don’t have to go through any intermediaries. Also, AAs can be programmed with specific information to answer caller questions directly; therefore, cutting call time.
Though the technology is not as advanced as its fictional counterpart, many of the features are not too far off. Personal assistants are becoming increasingly popular with users (i.e. Apple’s Siri, Android’s Google Now). Additionally, most Voice over IP service companies offer Auto Attendants within their standard plans. As this occurs, the technology is not only actively developed, but callers/users become more comfortable with automation. Subsequently, auto attendants can borrow functionality from these systems, while also utilizing newer technologies and communications capabilities to upgrade and expand. While it might be a while before an AA can run a highly advanced suit of armor, it is definitely not impossible. Until then, users can utilize AAs to guide callers through an interactive menu of various options.