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How a Bad Auto Attendant Hurts Your Business


The easiest way for a business to lose customers before they even get to talk to them is by setting up a bad auto attendant.

Image of a woman experiencing a bad auto attendant

Ah yes, auto attendants. Those automated voice answering systems that nobody really likes to hear when they call a business. But sometimes they are a necessary evil. And if they are actually well-designed, they can get you speaking with the right person quickly and have a positive impact on the caller experience.

Well, our friends at Software Advice, a VoIP research group, did a study to help businesses design an auto attendant that drives customer engagement. Their findings are proof that a poorly designed auto attendant is one of the fastest ways to make callers take their business elsewhere.

According to the study, the most common auto attendant menu listings are department choices, dial-by-name directories, and an operator option. About half of businesses that use an auto attendant have between 3 and 5 menu options. Right on. However, a third of businesses use 7 or more. And that’s where they get themselves into trouble. Too many options drive callers crazy. So do menus that take a long time to listen to. Only a quarter of companies abide by the good practice of keeping their menu length under 20 seconds. Another quarter of them come in over 40 seconds. That’s just too long.

Lengthy intros are another issue. A third of auto attendant users have an intro that is over 5 and upwards of 20 seconds long! That’s a lot of unnecessary chatter a caller has to sit through before the menu options even begin! Another complaint callers will frequently have is that the issue they are calling about isn’t even a menu option, or the most common menu option needed is buried and takes too long to get to.

So, what happens when callers have a poor auto attendant experience? Almost half of them will straight up take their business elsewhere! And considering that about half of consumers opt to call a business as their first way of making contact, that’s a ton of opportunities fleeing for the competition just because of a bad encounter with an auto attendant.

What takeaways do we have here? Well, it’s always better to answer with a live person! However, if that’s not an option and your business must use an auto attendant, abide by these 3 golden rules.

1. Keep the greeting and entire menu brief

2. Use 5 menu options or less

3. Make sure the menu items are in a logical order (most important ones first)

Graphic of the golden rules for designing a good auto attendant

Abide by this auto attendant design philosophy and you’ll provide callers with a phone experience that will get them talking to a live person quickly. Because speaking with the right person asap is what it’s all about.

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