What Is an Automated Attendant?

N. Madison

An automated attendant is a computerized system that answers telephone calls and plays a prerecorded message to callers. This prerecorded message usually provides a caller with a list of options and allows him to select a preference through his touch-tone phone's keypad, or in some cases, by speaking into his telephone. Based on the information the caller provides in this manner, the automated attendant then directs the call to the appropriate phone extension. In some cases, automated attendants provide an option for reaching a live operator as well.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Years ago, when an individual would contact a company, he would reach a live person who would ask him questions and direct his call. If the individual available to take calls was busy, the caller might be placed on hold or have to call back at another time. Some companies employed many different people for the purpose of answering more calls and providing help faster. Today, however, many companies use auto attendants to field their customer's calls. These computerized systems perform the same basic tasks that a live person would and route calls to other extensions.

Like live operators, automated attendants rely on input from the caller to route calls appropriately. Often, each choice a person can make is associated with a number on the keypad, and the automated attendant provides a menu of selections so callers can choose. Some are capable of recognizing simple voice responses as well. Many of these systems also allow callers who know the extension number of the person they want to meet to enter it right away rather than listening to all of the menu selections. Additionally, some allow callers to say “operator” or dial a specific number in order to reach a live operator instead.

Though automated attendants can prove convenient, they are not always well received by those who use them. Sometimes customers and clients of a company that uses an automated attendant become frustrated or even angry because of the challenges it presents. For example, in some cases, the selections presented do not fit the caller's needs or the system may fail to recognize the caller's request. Sometimes the caller may make a mistake and hit the wrong button and experience delays with having his call routed. An individual may even find an automated attendant frustrating when he calls with an urgent matter and experiences delays getting help because of the computerized system.

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