Is Automated Attendant Killing My Business?

A customer's first contact with an organization is often by telephone. What impression does your company give over the phone, and is it killing your business?

In any competitive business environment, it's essential that the first impression your potential client has of your organization is a positive one. That's why it's helpful to periodically evaluate how your organization receives and manages phone contact and identify opportunities to improve the quality and accuracy of your communications. In recent years, many companies have turned to Automated Attendants and IVR's to screen and direct callers, but many others continue to insist on a live person answering the phone. Is your choice killing your business? Let's evaluate.

For companies that are currently using Automated Attendant or IVR, or for companies who are evaluating the technology for the first time, there are a few important questions you need to ask. However, before you ask yourself these questions, you need to throw your personal opinion out the window for a moment. Your preferences may not be the same as your clients, and it is all to easy to assume that your clients will want what you want. That is most definitely not always going to be the case, so be as subjective as possible. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Who is your clientele? What demographic? (Age, technology savvy, etc)

2. What is your industry doing and why?

3. What is your daily call volume?

4. Do you get an incredible amount of nuisance sales calls?

5. Do you deal with the general public, or only with a few suppliers?

6. Do you use Voice PRI and DID's to bypass the IVR or AA for regular clients?

7. What is your market niche?

8. What image of your company do you want in the market?

9. What are the financial implications?

The answers to these questions will go a long way towards choosing the right route for your business to take, as well as determine if Automatic Attendant is killing your business. Let's expand on each of these questions for a moment.

1. Who is your clientele? What demographic do they represent?

Having an Automated Attendant in certain businesses will absolutely shut you down. Do you own a business based on personal service and personal touch? Do you deal with an older demographic who prefers the way "things used to be" in the olden days?

For instance: Can you own a mortuary and send calls through an IVR or AA? No. How about a flower shop? Not likely if you want the business. Ordering pizza? You just lost a customer. They want service now.

Is the information you provide easily distributed without a live person, and is that all your client needs? This is such an in depth question, you have to know the answer to it.

2. What is your industry doing and why?

What are the most successful organizations among your competitors doing? This will often be an indicator of a wise decision based on real market experience, but it should not always be taken into consideration. Was this a choice made based on a larger or smaller company call volume? Do they have the same market niche and similar clientele? Either way, you need to know what the standard protocol is in your industry, because if you follow it, you most likely will not lose customers by repeating it. However, not following the norm may be a strategic move simply to gain customers who are unhappy with the status quo. Know what your competition is doing and why.

3. What is your daily call volume?

You need to know. Many organizations have moved to Automated Attendant to get more done. Plain and Simple. If your receptionist / secretary is so busy answering calls that he / she is not able to perform other vital income producing activities, it may make sense to run calls through an Automated Attendant or IVR to send your clients to the department where they need to go Without the assistance of the secretary or receptionist. Depending on the business, this may work just fine. Always program in the option to opt out so that your clients have the ability to choose to speak to the receptionist / secretary / live warm body by dialing zero. By doing so, you can avoid offending those who absolutely refuse to deal with automated attendants.

If you have low call volume, why would you consider this option? See the next question.

4. Do you get an incredible amount of daily nuisance sales calls?

5. Do you deal with the general public, or only a select few suppliers?

Let's deal with these two together, as they go hand in hand. When organizations get hundreds of calls a day, they have to ask what the calls are for, who they are for, and does it affect their business positively or negatively.

If you are a research firm that does contract work for a few select clients, you do not need calls from the incoming general public. You often are not staffed with anyone specifically to handle those calls, so it pulls someone vital to your operation into answering calls that do not seem to vital functions of your business.

If you want to buy something, you have the online yellow pages and Google at your disposal, so do you really need to take that sales call? Have you ever answered calls all day and not been able to perform your major job function? When that answer is yes, you may not only want an AA or IVR, you may not be able to deal without one.

6. Do you use Voice PRI and DID's?

Voice PRI (Voice T-1 Primary Rate Interface) and DID's (Direct Inward Dial numbers) allow your clients to call directly in and bypass the automated attendant by calling the number on your desk. For larger businesses that have a huge amount of calls, but who want to have their regular clients to have the ability to bypass the auto attendant or IVR, and to be directly connected to their regular company contact, it is essential to have the correct telecommunications Service set up by your carrier. A low budget option for a smaller business is to give out extension numbers so your clients can make quick work of that pesky AA. Having an Automated Attendant set up without these options may cause your regular clients frustration, as they feel treated like the "regular" folks, not as one of your "preferred" clients.

7. What is your market niche?

8. What image of your company do you want in the market?

Let's deal with these two together. Once you decide the market segment you are after, you need to know the preferences of that market segment. Does your niche call for high dollar clientele who wish to be handled with extreme attention and care? Is your niche the general masses and you need to deal in volume at the best price possible? How do you want your company to be perceived in the marketplace? Do you want to be viewed as a Wal-Mart type of company-Big bang for the buck? How about a 5 star hotel-You cost more but are worth it? Every business must choose its niche in order to be successful. Do you have a limo service? Who do you want to service? Prom kids or the social elite? It's very difficult to do both effectively, so choose your client's first call experience to your business with that in mind.

9. What are the financial implications?

What does it cost you to have a dedicated person answering the phone? Is it $ 24k annually? Is it a 36k or 40k person with tremendous ability that is tied up answering the phones instead of generating revenue for the
organization and performing other vital functions? How much business would it cost you if you moved to an automated attendant? Would it cost anything at all? Would the loss be welcomed by how much more work would be accomplished internally?

Do you have only large clients? Would the loss of a single client who is unhappy with your approach cost you tens of thousands annually? Is the risk worth even considering?

Choose carefully which road you take, as the road selected will most likely have a financial impact one way or the other on your business. As always, consult with your local telecom professional to determine the best way to implement new technology to service your clients.

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