Glenn Stok developed automated phone systems for over 35 years as CEO of Stok Software, Inc. He has a Master's Degree in Computer Science.
I’ll explain how to program an automated phone system to route your callers with little effort on their part. A business phone system should focus on customer service. It needs to quickly connect callers to a live person at the proper customer service desk.
Start 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.
How Your Phone System Can Engage Customers
The most crucial step is to connect your caller to the proper personnel in the quickest way possible. 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.
The menu options need to be clearly understood, so callers don't have to guess what keys to press.
Have you ever had the experience of calling a company, reaching their automated phone system, and getting the run-around through endless menus? In that case, you'll appreciate the reason for programming a phone system that a caller can easily maneuver through quickly.
When a customer calls your business, they might already know what department they want, but not the person they need to contact. So the menu system should provide a list of departments.
For Accounting, press 1.
For Sales, press 2.
For Support, press 3.
Keep it simple, and keep it short. Be precise and don't use corporate jargon that outsiders may not understand. That would confuse a caller and cause them to hang up in frustration or waste time pressing the wrong keys. They would need to be transferred to the correct personnel, or worse, put back into the automated attendant.
Essential Phone Etiquette Rules for Business
When answering, personnel should announce their name or, at the least, the department name, so the caller immediately knows that they got the right place.
If an employee answers an incorrectly routed call, instruct them to be courteous and helpful. They should try to determine the correct department that the caller needs and transfer them to that extension.
Make Callers Feel Wanted
When a caller is frustrated by a company's phone system and can't maneuver through the menu options with ease, they will feel that the company doesn't care to have their business. That is what leads people away from doing business with a particular organization.
Your phone system must do three things:
- It must make their customers feel welcome.
- It must make it easy for callers to get what they want quickly.
- It must always have an option to go directly to a live person by pressing zero.
Refrain from using extraneous computer-generated voices pretending to be a live person just to slow things down. Callers feel you take them as an idiot when they hear, “Just a moment while I look up your account.”
People know that's fake. You wouldn't want to give that impression.
Provide Easy-to-Understand Phone Menu Options
Think about what people usually call about, and include menu options to address those needs. That's all it takes to make a phone system work well.
Proper planning will help to achieve this. Ask your personnel what type of calls they usually deal with and how they handle them.
The feedback is valuable and provides constructive ideas for properly programming the phone menu system. Listen to criticism. It can help to know how to streamline and simplify anything that needs improvement.
Confirm Your Phone System's Accuracy
Much too often, I have called large corporations and heard a confusing list of options that contradict one another.
I don't consider the programming of a phone system completed until tested thoroughly. Once a company invests in a new phone system, someone in the tech department should check how well it guides callers.
They need to call in as if they were a customer to determine how well the system handles the call. By testing every menu option, they can catch and correct any weaknesses.
Avoid "Corporate Speak"
Some companies create phone menus that are foreign to the average caller because they use "Corporate Speak," which is known to company personnel but may be unclear for others.
Make sure to avoid these pitfalls, because it will frustrate your callers and lose their business.
The best solution is to have an outside person go through the menu choices and see if they understand each prompt entirely without guessing their meaning.
Handle Overloads in a Friendly Manner
If your personnel are so overloaded that your automated phone system would keep people waiting too long, then consider adding a feature to let the caller chose to leave a callback number.
It could tell them to expect a call back within x minutes, and someone must return the call within that time!
Always Allow Pressing Zero for a Live Operator
Some callers may not be in the right frame of mind to listen to a long list of recorded options. For that reason, it's favorable to provide menu option zero that leads directly to a live person.
When I call a company and feeling rushed, I press zero, and I expect to get a receptionist who can route my call to the correct department or person without me having to listen to a lengthy menu.
Some automated phone systems will route the caller to a live operator after pressing zero several times. I don't condone this method. It's just a shame that some companies play these games. It's best to make it work without frustrating your callers.
To Conclude, Show Callers You Care
Some companies, especially utilities and government agencies, are terrible with their customer service, which is evident when a caller has trouble getting through the phone system.
They don't seem to care, but more likely, they don't have good managers responsible enough to oversee what their programmers have done when setting up the phone system.
It doesn't have to be that way. These systems should speed the caller through and quickly give them what they want.
If you run into a phone system that does not do that for you, it's the manager’s fault. They are responsible for overseeing the system programmers.
Companies that put effort into designing a simple-to-use phone system will have satisfied patrons who appreciate their focus on customer service.
© 2011 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on December 10, 2013:
Batee Lanka -
I would have to hear your greeting just to be sure what the problem is. But I would guess it has something to do with the wording or the length.
1. Keep it short.
2. Get to the point with the options for the caller, don't have a lengthy intro.
3. Give the most important and useful option first.
If that doesn't help, call your own phone and listen to it with an open mind as if you were a caller. See if it is misleading in any way, or if there is too much information for a new caller to handle.
Batee Lanka on December 09, 2013:
Hello, I was wondering why most of the customers select the last option of the call menu even it is not the required option for them to query. For example, I am operating an answering system to redirect customers to 4 departments of the company. But mostly last option will be the selection for most or the customers even though it is not the relevant department. I assume that customers are lazy to listen to the menu and they just remember the last option and enter that option to speak to an agent. I would appreciate if you could comment on this. Thanks.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 20, 2011:
Pamela, Absolutely correct. Thanks for stopping by.
Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on July 20, 2011:
Sometimes the list of options don't cover what my needs are and I just hit "O". Usually you will get an operator unless, like you say, they don't care to help their customer.
Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on July 04, 2011:
The final insult is that after you finally get through to a live person to discuss your problem, no matter what an ordeal it's been, the final line from the customer service person is always, "Thank you for 'choosing' AT&T." As if there was a choice for DSL service where I live.