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How to Sound Like a Fortune 500 Company With Your Company’s Auto Attendant


Despite the fact that an automated phone greeting is often a potential customer’s first interaction with a company, many small business owners don’t take the steps needed to ensure they’re making the right first impression. Deciding what options to present to a caller, composing the greeting so that it’s concise and understandable and creating a polished recording is more than most know how to execute properly.

After almost 15 years as a small business owner of AccessDirect, a company that provides auto attendant phone systems, I’ve noticed one consistent desire in virtually all of our customers: they want their phone greeting to make their company sound bigger and more professional. In fact, most people in the market for an automated phone system are just as interested, if not more so, in how the auto attendant sounds as they are in the specific features and functionality it offers.

Here, we identify seven best practices for setting up a phone greeting that gives the impression you are as organized as a Fortune 500 company, and can efficiently and professionally serve the caller’s needs.

State the Most Important Information Right Away

The main purpose of your automated greeting should be to either immediately provide callers with the information they want, or direct them to the right person to address their needs. You don’t want to weigh down your call menu with too much information, but for most businesses, you should include your office hours (unless you operate 24/7), and your website URL, if you have one. This will immediately answer many callers’ questions, saving them (and you) time.

Depending on the business, you may consider including other types of relevant information. For example, if you’re a clothing store, you should include the location of your business at the very beginning of your greeting so customers can find you easily without having to search online.

Before you introduce any options for callers to choose from, you should also let callers know that they can enter their party’s extension, if they know it, at any time. Forcing customers to listen to a list of choices when they already know who they want to reach is a sure way to displease them right off the bat.

Keep Choices Short, Simple and Easy to Understand

While an exhaustive list of extensions will eventually get customers to the person they need, you don’t want to put them through the ordeal of waiting through a list of endless options or other information they may not be after.

To this end, your automated greeting should have a very simple and straightforward menu of options that are easy to decide between. Most small and mid-sized businesses require just one level of options with several extensions, e.g. “Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 For Customer Service, Press 3 for Billing,” and so forth. Always use self-explanatory extension names or a clear call to action, e.g. “To hear your account balance, press 3.”

Additionally, make sure you list options in numerical order, e.g. “Press 1 for Booking,” “Press 2 for Room Service,” etc. (This may sound like a no-brainer, but trust me, companies do make this mistake.) Don’t jump around and make it hard for customers to remember which option is the one they want. You should also always give callers the option to be immediately connected with a live person by pressing a number, such as “9” or “0,” or saying something like “speak to an agent.”

List the Most-Requested Options First

We’ve all been there: you press a number, are connected to an extension, describe what you need to the person who answers and their first response is to transfer you somewhere else. To make sure your customers get where they need to go on the first try, list the most commonly requested options at the beginning of the menu.

For example, if your company sells furniture, many callers likely have requests about the status of their order or questions about payments, so these options should be listed first. If you sell software systems, customers are probably calling in with technical support issues, so your customer service department should be one of the very first choices.

Business owner Carmella Mouzon uses a one level, four-extension auto attendant for her tour bus company, Tours of Atlanta. Since most of her callers are looking to book tours, her company’s greeting is set up accordingly:

  1. “Thank you for calling Tours of Atlanta.
  2. To book a tour, press 1.
  3. For customer service, press 2.
  4. For Lourdes Magenie in Marketing, press 3.
  5. For the job hotline, press 4.
  6. This greeting will now repeat, to allow you more time to make your selection.”

Use Separate Extensions to Relay Detailed Information

Auto attendant services typically offer extensions to information-only mailboxes. These mailboxes play a pre-recorded greeting that provides information about the person or department with which the mailbox is associated and allows the caller to either transfer back to the main menu or repeat the information by pressing a button. Take advantage of these boxes to answer frequently asked questions such as directions to your business, or to convey additional information about sales and specials.

Skate Zone, a skating rink in Lafayette, La., has separate extensions for everyday skate session information, birthday party information and special events, so their callers can find out exactly what they want to know without sitting through options that don’t apply to them. “It’s almost like having a live person answer the phone,” says Frank Torries, the owner. “All the information is there so we get very few messages that we have to return.”

Keep Slogans and Sales Information Short

Your company slogan is a great way to insert your brand in your customer’s memory at the start of the call, but anything more than a short sentence leading into the menu will frustrate callers. For example, beginning with, “Thank you for calling Mattresses Are Us, your mattress professionals,” is a good example of keeping a slogan short and sweet. “Thank you for calling Mattresses Are Us. We’re a family-run business bringing customers only the highest quality mattresses for over 30 years, and it’s our goal to help you get the perfect night’s sleep,” on the other hand, is far too long.

By the same token, mentioning a sale or special event at the very beginning can be a great marketing technique, but make sure it’s just a teaser to get customers interested. Always direct callers to a separate extension for additional information so you don’t hold them up at the main menu, e.g. “We’re currently offering $50 off on all orders of $200 or more. Press 1 to learn more.”

Don’t List Your Entire Company Roster

If you do include a list of individual extensions, this menu should contain no more than five or six options. If you have more than that, consider using a dial-by-name directory.

Another way to effectively manage multiple extensions is to use sub menus that first point your callers first to a department, then present a management list of names within that department. JSTN, a career-building firm based in Illinois, uses submenus to great effect with their auto attendant: after the main greeting, callers are initially presented with seven options, such as Sales or Accounting. After selecting the department they need, they’re given a short list of names to choose from—each department list has five names or less. Here’s how it works:


Christine McClain, JSTN’s accounting manager, says, “The submenus help make sure that our callers can get to the person they need to talk to without sitting through our entire staff listing first— it’s much more convenient for them.”

Use Different Greetings for Different Times

Odds are you’re not running your business 24/7—even if it sometimes feels that way. When you’re not available, your greeting should let your customers know why, as well as when you’ll be open for business again. There are two ways you can do this:

Make sure you have an after-hours message. Even if you state your office hours at the start of your greeting, it’s a good idea to switch to a nighttime option when you close to let your customers know when you’ll be open for business again, and what to do in case of an emergency. Pine Glen Dental Group, a Peoria, IL dental office, has an after-hours menu that states in the first option what to do if the dentist needs to be notified immediately, then lists its regular options for patients who want to leave a message to be returned.

Don’t forget the holidays. Even the busiest small business owner needs to take a day off once in awhile. Don’t make customers wonder if you’re closed just for Memorial Day, or for the entire weekend—let them know with a special greeting that tells them exactly how long you’ll be closed and when you’ll be back. Many auto attendant services can set recorded greetings to start playing automatically on a specific day or time, and will then switch back to the standard greeting when your business reopens.

An auto attendant is the perfect way to greet your customers consistently and professionally, and route their calls efficiently—if you set it up correctly. With these simple tips, your automated menu will be the utmost in professionalism and convenience for both you and your customers.

Thumbnail image created by Esparta Palma.

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John Kinskey

About the Author

John Kinskey is the President of AccessDirect and a Software Advice contributor.

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