Auto-Attendant Basics – part 3

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In the previous lesson we covered:

  • Departmental vs. solution based prompts; which is right for your organization?
  • How to track down, the who, the why and the language your callers use.
  • Identifying whether your call routing is efficient or giving callers the run-around
  • Tips to help streamline your call routing more efficiently.

If you’re just joining us go ahead and catch up by clicking here for part I of the series.


Auto-Attendant Part III

In part III of this series you will learn:

  • The advantage of using sub-prompts.
  • Option “Zero” Why you need it and how to do it right.
  • How navigation controls give callers a second chance.
  • The Magic Word finally finds it place in the script.
  • Introduction to back-end controls and default actions.


Sub-Prompts (sub-menus)

Sub-prompts are menu options listed in a separate menu off (or below) the main auto-attendant message. When used effectively, sub-prompt routing makes navigating your auto attendant quicker while segmenting your callers for more accurate call distribution. Let’s explore some of the reason your business may want incorporate sub-menus


Easier for callers

By logically segmenting prompts, callers only hear options relevant to their inquiry.

Quicker navigation

Like above, callers can quickly choose a topic without having to listen to irrelevant options.

Lots of routing options

By using sub prompts, you can provide more options than a standard telephone keypad has buttons.

More accurate routing

By using sub-prompts to narrow down callers specific needs, calls can be more accurately routed to the correct person or group.

Provide additional information

Sub menus don’t necessarily have to provide call routing. Secondary messages can also be used to provide additional information about products, services and is commonly used for frequently asked questions.


… to hear our mailing address and fax number press 6 …

Option 6 message

Our mailing address is fifteen twenty-four Commercial Drive in Tampa Florida 33619. You can also send correspondence via fax to 813-555-5555. Visit our online home at Acme Corp dot com to learn more about our iconic anvils and Rocket-Powered Products.


Multiple Languages

Example of segmenting by language:

You have reached The Acme Company
To continue this call in English press 1
Para español, por favor pulse 2
Pour le français s’il vous plaît appuyez sur le 3
Für Deutsch drücken Sie bitte 4

Here are some more examples where sub prompts may be useful.

Sales – segment callers by:

  • Product type
  • End users/resellers

Service – segment callers by:

  • Service type
  • First-time call/existing issue
  • Service plan level

Billing – segment callers by:

  • Payables/receivables
  • Balance inquiry/error/disputes


Option Zero

…for all other calls or to reach an operator please press zero.

Reserving zero for the, “operator” is recommended as it considered standard and becomes a catch-all for callers who did not find a viable prompt option or are not  sure which option to select. Some people don’t care to listen to the message and press zero knowing that they will get a live person to assist them.

It is important that every call to the “operator” during business hours is answered by a person.

If you have a dedicated receptionist make sure the phone is covered during lunch, potty breaks and times of high call volume. If your business doesn’t have a dedicated receptionist you’ll need to set-up a system of shared responsibility for staff members help direct, “operator assistance calls.”


Navigation Controls

Finally, provide your callers with navigation control.

…to hear these options again press 8
to return to the previous menu press 9

If you don’t provide an option to repeat the message, confused callers will hang up and may not call back.  An option to repeat the prompts should be included in every message that has 3 or more prompts or provides detailed information.

I like to use number 8 to repeat the current message and 9 to return to the previous menu. Star ’*’ and pound or hash ‘#’ are also commonly used for navigation. It doesn’t matter which you use, just be sure to keep it consistent throughout your messages.


You have reached The Acme Company, manufacturing quality widgets since 1948. If you know your parties extension you may dial it at any time.
To speak with a Sales Representative press 1
To reach a Service Technician press 2
For questions about shipping press 3
To speak with someone in manufacturing press 4
For billing inquiries press 5
To hear our mailing address and fax number press 6
For all other calls or to reach an operator please press zero.
To hear these options again press 8

Option 6 message

Our mailing address is fifteen twenty-four Commercial Drive in Tampa Florida 33619. You can also send correspondence via fax to 813-555-5555. Visit our online home at Acme Corp dot com to learn more about our iconic anvils and Rocket-Powered Products.
To hear this message again press 8
To return to the previous menu press 9


Above we put everything into place including the magic word, please added one time in the final transfer prompt.

The biggest mistake made when scripting an auto attendant is the addition of fluff. Remember, K.I.S.S. – Keep It Short and Simple!


Back-End coordination

The greeting and list of recorded prompts are the ‘front-end’, it’s the message your callers hear when they call your business. The ‘back-end’ is configured in your phone system and determines the action taken based on the caller’s input. To have a functioning auto-attendant system, the front and back-end must be in sync. Be sure to coordinate with your IT staff or phone system technician before finalizing your attendant script.


Default action

In planning your back-end parameters, one setting that is often overlooked is the default action in place for each message in the event no action (option) is selected. Repeating the message seems logical but could put your caller in an endless loop. Or, if your phone system does not recognize that a call was disconnected, it could needlessly tie up a phone line for an extended period.  It is recommended that the default action is a transfer to a logical extension based on how far the caller advanced through your attendant. i.e. main greeting no action transfers to the operator.

You should also provide enough time for callers to make a selection before the default action initiates. Three to five seconds should suffice. That interval is determined simply by the duration of silence recorded at the end of your message.


If you choose to have us record your auto attendant messages professionally,  we will develop your script and fully notate the back-end processes making it easier for your IT team to set-up.

In the next edition of ComTips, we’ll discuss the after-hours greeting. How to be available to callers even when you’re closed.


About the Author:

Jeff Wilson advises businesses and organizations about optimizing their telephony communication systems and develops custom professionally voiced messages that project a polished image for every caller. You can reach him using the, 'support' email link found on the contact page.
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