Automated Attendant

Automated attendants answer a call, play a message with a menu of options and route the caller to the extension or menu choice selected.

In call centers, automated attendants are helpful in having callers direct themselves to an appropriate queue. For example, an automated attendant in a call center might ask the caller to dial one for sales, two for billing or account information and three for technical support. The call would then be routed to the correct department or the correct ACD gate.

Once it was common to find standalone automated attendants. Today they are usually a part of a voice mail or other voice processing system. In fact, they are so fully integrated into today’s PBX systems and messaging technologies that you almost never have to worry about buying this (or any of the voice technologies itemized so far). These are features of larger scale systems that are still important to the functions of a center.

Announcement Systems And Messages On Hold

The most basic building block in the suite of technologies I call voice processing is the announcer. An announcer simply answers an incoming telephone call and plays a recorded message.

Digital announcers use a computer chip to store the recorded message. Other systems use tape to store the message, similar to the way an answering machine does. (Word of advice: stick to digital. Tape is too delicate, too cumbersome, and hard to edit. Digital is not just the future; it’s the present.)

You can have the system play a message and simply hang up, or ring the caller through to your phone system after playing the message if they choose to stay on the line for more information.

Announcers can also work with ACDs to play messages to callers in queue. You can program a message to simply thank the caller for holding, play on-hold music, or even better, play recorded promotional messages.

Because an announcer is so simple, it doesn’t have the high-tech appeal of other voice processing technologies. But announcers are vital to most call centers and many other businesses because they play music and messages to callers waiting on hold or in queue for a call center agent.

Call centers turn to sophisticated technologies like computer integration to save a few seconds per call — and may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. But few stop to think that a simple announcement on hold that tells callers to have a credit card ready can save that same call center five seconds per call at almost no cost.

When choosing an announcer the most important thing you’ll need to decide is the amount of recording time you’ll need.

Voice Processing Fundamentals

Customers demand convenience. They want information quickly, but they also want specialized attention. And they want to reach you on their timetable, not necessarily yours.

Voice response assures callers reach the right department without the need for an agent. Callers like having options. They hate being forced to wait in queue. Voice processing means you can offer them options. Depending on the technology you use, they can leave a message for a return phone call, retrieve information themselves, or request that it be sent to them.

And the benefits to you are even greater. When you use a voice processing system, more calls get handled through the system. Instead of paying your reps to answer every call, they can handle just the callers who ask to speak to them. Depending on circumstances, you’ll be able to handle higher call volumes with the same number of reps.

Information that an IVR system captures is always accurate. It comes firsthand, from the customer. By now everyone realizes the value of customer information. You can use it for cross marketing, surveying demographics about who your customers are, and so much more.

A lot of information about IVR will be presented in the next section. IVR is a special animal; it’s the key voice processing component in call centers, worthy of special attention. What this chapter will do is explain some of the other voice technologies that are available. These technologies, like speech recognition and automated attendants are, if not critical, then important for specific applications and industries.

Less than 10 years ago it was possible to go through each voice processing technology and give an example of a standalone system that offered that technology. Today’s systems are much more sophisticated.

These days certain technologies are found almost exclusively as functions in larger systems. It’s likely that some or all of these are included in the ACD you’ve already got, whether you use them or not. (Maybe in reading this brief chapter you will see the virtue of simple voice functions and trot out your ACD manual to get some of them turned on.)

When there is a standalone product, it is almost always aimed at the low end of the market. But today’s voice processing market is also a place where you can get what you want — exactly what you want. The hottest technologies are application generation software products, voice boards and the accessories needed to create “do it yourself” voice processing systems.

Here, I’ve outlined the technologies that are available. In a sense, all I’m really doing is showing you how some core voice technology (voice boards plus some software logic) can be put to use. There is precious little difference between auto attendants and their grown-up cousin, IVR, besides power, scalability and feature set. Under the hood, they are all essentially the same. But no matter what type of voice system you choose, they all share one common characteristic — you’ll be more productive and will save money in the long run.