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How to Automate a Business Phone System Correctly

I managed a company developing business phone systems over 30 years. As a result, I can provide you with the following dependable guidance.

Business personnel are glad to use a well-designed telephone system.

Business personnel are glad to use a well-designed telephone system.

Make an Excellent First Impression

The proper configuration of your phone system is crucial to provide an excellent first impression of your business.

This guide applies to any automated business phone system. You'll need this after your system is already installed with all wiring and phone connections completed.

I'll give you the information you need to program your automated attendant to handle your callers efficiently and answer questions you might have.

What Are the Necessary Parts of a Business Phone System?

The main component of any business phone system is the PBX, which stands for “Private Branch Exchange.” Incoming calls can be answered and routed by either of two methods:

  1. Calls can be answered by a live person who assists with routing callers to their desired department or personnel.
  2. Calls can be routed by an automated attendant, which provides a menu of options that callers can use to complete their calls without a live receptionist.

In addition, a voice mail component will allow callers to leave messages for personnel.

The Benefits of an Automated Phone System

Business calls can interfere with an employee's concentration and give them the extra responsibility to take messages for other employees. An automated phone system that routes callers properly allows personnel to be more productive.

Callers can be routed to specific phones in the office automatically. Personnel can even forward their extensions to outside locations or cell phones in many cases.

When voice mail is included, the system will take messages for busy personnel. Each individual can record their greeting that plays to the caller if they don't answer. That greeting can give specifics of their availability.

An automated attendant can also allow callers to listen to recorded information without waiting for a live person to answer routine questions. That's great for providing business hours, directions to your office, listing job offerings, and answering other frequently asked questions.

Sample Automated Attendant Menus

Automated phone systems have a lot of flexibility that you can take advantage of to provide the best experience for your callers. Depending on your business configuration, here are two examples of menu options.

Corporate Business Example

This corporate business example works well for a company with various departments and employees working within the office or other locations. Callers might hear a menu of options such as in the following example:

Thank you for calling Able Works Corp.
For assistance, press zero.
For Sales, press 1.
For Technical Support, press 2.
For Accounting, press 3.
For our dial-by-name directory, press 4.

Employee Team Example

The following example gives callers easy access to required personnel. Employees can have individual extensions, and essential personnel can be placed in the menu with single-key options, as shown here:

Welcome to the Team Machine Corporation
If you know the extension of the person you wish to reach, you may enter it at any time.
Or, for John Smith, press 1.
For Kathy Roberts, press 2.
For Larry Public, press 3.
For other assistance, press 0.

How Do Multiple Callers Get Through on One Number?

If you only have one phone line, then only one caller will get through. A second caller will get a busy signal because your phone company cannot deliver the second call.

You need additional phone lines for each simultaneous caller to avoid your callers getting busy signals. And your phone system needs to support the additional lines. The number of lines you need is dependent on the expected call volume.

For example, if you have ten extensions, and five people are usually on outside phone calls all at once, you will need five phone lines coming in from your phone company. If all five lines are in use, the next caller will get a busy signal.

The method of delivering incoming calls is a function of the phone company. Every caller dials the same number—your main company number. The phone company provides a feature called rollover service. If the first line is busy, the next caller rolls over to the next available line.

Busy signals can be avoided by having enough phone lines to deliver all possible simultaneous callers.

How to Make a Business Phone System Handle Your Callers Properly

When programming the menu options, it’s essential to consider the logical placement of the departments and personnel in your company. A well-organized phone menu will help callers get through quickly.

You’ll want to point your caller in the right direction without confusing choices. An easy-to-follow menu is crucial, with options for specific departments, personnel, or other information.

How do you go about planning the proper structure for your menu? Think about what people usually call about, and include menu options to address those needs. Also, consider how well your customers know your company.

  • Do they routinely contact specific personnel?
  • Do they know the extension numbers?
  • Do they know the last name of your staff?
  • Or do they just have a vague idea of what department they need to reach?

Knowing the answers to these questions, you can design your phone menu to handle your customers' needs.

Get Feedback From Personnel

Ask your personnel what type of calls they usually deal with and how they handle them. That feedback is valuable. It provides constructive ideas for programming your phone menu properly and simplifying anything that needs improvement.

Example Considerations

If you have many people calling with common questions or need information about your products, include an option such as "Press 5 for information about our widgets."

If your customers know your personnel by name, then it is helpful to offer a dial-by-name directory. The caller is instructed to dial the last name on the phone's keypad.

Remember that if someone leaves your company or you hire others, you need to keep your phone directory up to date.

As a security measure, to be sure you don't lose callers, it is helpful always to give a caller an option to get to a live operator by pressing zero. Your operator could be your receptionist or anyone who can help callers who need guidance.

Phone caller pressing menu options to route their call.

Phone caller pressing menu options to route their call.

Call Processing When Personnel Are Not Available

Your personnel may not always be available to take calls. But it is necessary to take care of your customers when they call.

So when a call goes unanswered, quickly directing the caller to an appropriate voice mailbox with instructions in the greeting will help assure your caller that they will be taken care of promptly.

When your personnel need privacy because they are preoccupied with problematic tasks, their extensions can be set to "Do-Not-Disturb" mode so that important callers don't just hear endless ringing.

Instead, when an extension is set as Do-Not-Disturb, it will immediately play an alternate greeting that the user had set up to handle callers when they are unavailable. This greeting is known as an "Unavailable Greeting." It gives instructions to your caller, such as what alternate extension to dial for immediate service by another employee.

The fact that the mailbox user can record both a regular greeting and an unavailable greeting makes it easy to switch to Do-Not-Disturb (or unavailable mode) and back again without the need to record a new greeting each time.

Remember, you do need to follow up with all messages. So your personnel must check their voice mailboxes on a routine basis or have a message notification method enabled.

Automated Business Phone System Etiquette

It's a good business practice to make it as easy as possible for your callers to get through to the appropriate person to help them. The following points are crucial.

Begin With a Short Welcome Greeting

The initial welcome greeting should mention the company's name, so the caller knows they dialed correctly.

Don't include unnecessary rhetoric. Your caller wants to get right down to business, so don't waste their time. Quickly provide a list of options for personnel or departments, and keep it short and simple.

Provide Useful Menu Choices

A poorly designed phone system menu can destroy a business relationship, especially when one calls and can't get through in just one or two key presses.

It's customary to place options for various departments in the menu and assign extensions for personnel.

In some cases, you may want to put people's names in the menu, so your caller would hear, "For Sally Jones, press 1, for John Smith, press 2, etc." However, note that you are giving your caller an idea of the size of your company in that case.

An alternative is to provide a dial-by-name feature instead and make that one of the menu choices.

Give Callers a Live Person With Option Zero

Some people might be in a rush and don't have the patience to listen to the entire menu. You wouldn't want to lose those potential customers, and you definitely don't want to frustrate them.

These callers often want to press zero for immediate attention by a real person. Therefore, it's advisable to make menu option zero ring to an attendant who can help them or direct the call.

Handle Excess Calls in a Friendly Manner

If your personnel are so overwhelmed that your callers might be kept on hold waiting too long, then consider letting the caller choose to leave a callback number. And the system message should indicate when to expect a return call.

Never Mix Business and Personal Greetings

When your employees forward their extensions to their cell phones or home phones, they may not want their callers to hear their outgoing greeting message if they don't answer a transferred call.

I have a solution to this that I will explain in the next section.

Remote worker answering phone

Remote worker answering phone

How to Connect Remote Workers

Suppose you have a mobile workforce with personnel at remote locations, employ work-at-home personnel, or have satellite offices. In that case, you can include those workers in a unified phone system by programming extensions to route calls to their outside numbers, making them accessible to your callers.

A good phone system should handle various transfer features that your phone company provides, such as three-way calling or transfer and release, which is known as Centrex.

If you don't have any transfer capability with your phone company, then a decent phone system should still be able to transfer callers to another number by patching the call via two phone lines.

Proper Use of Extension Cellphones

If your remote personnel are not at specific locations, you can program the phone system extensions to route calls to their mobile phones. A caller who dials their extension will get connected via the cell phone without even knowing that the called party is not physically in the office.

Avoid Voice Mail Confusion

If your remote workers have their calls forwarded to their cell phones, clients will hear their personal greeting if the call is not answered. However, that may not be the best greeting for clients to hear since it may not have been recorded with the company's business aspect in mind.

You can use call screening to block the cell phone's personal greeting, so the caller only hears the professional greeting in the company's extension.

It works like this: If a cell phone's voice mail answers, the system will not connect the caller because only a live person can respond to a screened call. Instead, when call screening is used, the caller will be dropped into the business system's voice mail with the appropriate business-related greeting.

The Need to Return Missed Calls

However, you may want to consider that missed calls left in voice mail may not be picked up and returned in a timely manner. So, in that case, it might be reasonable to let the caller drop into the private voice mail and hear their personal greeting anyway. To do that, disable call screening and let all calls drop into their cell phone's voice mail if there is no answer.

The benefit is that personnel will not have to check for messages in two places. They just need to check the cellphone, which probably has a message-waiting signal to indicate a missed call. When deciding to let calls go to the personal voice mail, it's best they make a greeting relating to the business.

Proper Use of Voice Mail

Personnel's Voicemail Greetings

Everyone should be instructed on the proper way to record their greeting. You may have special considerations based on the type of business you have. So consider this when you develop the rules you want your personnel to follow.

For example, you may want everyone to include the department name in the greeting. Such as:

You've reached John Smith in Accounting. Please leave your message with your callback number, and I'll get back to you before the end of the day.

You may also want your personnel to mention other options for the caller in their greetings if they are unavailable to take calls.

Planning well will ensure that your phone system is streamlined and provides a positive customer experience.

Message Receipt and Maintenance

You may decide to have rules for handling voice mail messages. For example, do you want your personnel to forward important messages to a manager for review or decision-making? Or is it okay to delete them once they are reviewed? Make these rules clear and instruct everyone on how to carry out this process.

Message Notification

Message notification can be done by automated calls to another number when a message is received, such as the individual's cell phone, or it can display a light indicator on the office phone extension. Choose the best method for your situation.

It's crucial to make a good impression with your phone system.

It's crucial to make a good impression with your phone system.

Lastly, Verify Your Phone System Makes a Good First Impression

Finally, when your automated system is set up, and you have completed the programming, call your phone number and listen to your company greeting. Test every option on the menu to be sure everything works as you intended.

You wouldn't want your callers running into something strange. You can catch it and correct it before your callers find something wrong that irritates them.

Companies that put effort into a well-structured phone system will have satisfied patrons who appreciate their focus on customer service.

Planning well will ensure that your phone system is streamlined and provides a positive customer experience. It's the first thing your customers and clients experience when they call, so make an excellent first impression.

© 2015 Glenn Stok