The short answer is neither. Having a qualified receptionist to answer incoming calls, transfer them to the appropriate extension and address questions and concerns is the best way to provide good customer service and foster client retention.

If for reasons beyond your control you can not have a full-time receptionist, you have a choice. Making an informed decision will affect how your customers perceive you and your business.

Let’s first look at Automated Attendant which is the application in a Call Processor that routes callers to an extension or group of extensions based on the digits entered by the dialer after the auto attendant answers. We have all heard, “If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it now;” or, “For the Sales Department, press three.”

The benefits of Automated Attendant are:

  • It’s relatively inexpensive. If you have Voice Mail you have Automated Attendant
  • It operates 24/7/365
  • It’s never in a bad mood
  • It can provide a wealth of information a receptionist may find tedious

These are all pretty impressive and need no additional discussion.

The weaknesses of an Automated Attendant are:

  • It’s impersonal
  • The more choices you give a caller, the more annoyed they become
  • It cannot answer questions or provide customer service without making the caller “guess” to whom they wish to speak

Remember, people don’t like talking to a machine. Keep the choices short and specific. It’s impossible to get all callers to the correct extensions 100% of the time. Make sure you have an exit strategy, usually by allowing callers to dial “0” which will send them to a live person who can guide them through the process. Make the technology enhance your Customer Service Department, not replace it.

Let’s now talk about Direct in Dialing also known as DID. DID is the ability to have a 10 digit phone number ring directly at an extension or group of extensions. It’s a function of your Carrier Service Provider and your telephone equipment. In other words, you need to pay for the service from you dial tone provider and your telephone hardware must be sophisticated enough to support DID.

The benefits of DID are:

  • Callers to whom you have given your DID number have direct access to you without receptionist or Automated Attendant intervention
  • Incoming traffic is redirected away from those extensions previously involved in transferring callers
  • A small company can give the allusion that they are much larger

The drawbacks of DID are:

  • There is cost involved if you need to upgrade your current telephone equipment to support DID
  • Once an unwanted caller has your DID number, there is no easy way to screen them

Depending on the size of your company, DID service may be less expensive than typical voice lines. If DID can be cost-effective, it should be considered. If you choose to implement an Automated Attendant solution, you can get very favorable results if it’s designed correctly. When designing any telephone system, think of the users; your customers. What is the most efficient and user-friendly way to get them to purchase your goods and services, resolve a problem or pay their bill? If you keep that in mind, the “Which is Better” argument becomes moot.

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