Software Advice helps businesses choose the right auto attendant software so they can answer calls and take messages when no one's in the office. How does it work?

Auto Attendant Systems

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Jive Voice logo
 
Jive Communications delivers a cloud-based unified communication solution to organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Jive Voice includes integrated products for business VoIP, video conferencing and contact center which are all... Read More
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Jive Communications delivers a cloud-based unified communication solution to organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Jive Voice includes integrated products for business VoIP, video conferencing and contact center which are all... Read More
 
Vonage Business Solutions logo
 
Vonage Business Solutions is a cloud-based communications solution suitable for small and midsize companies. The solution offers a business phone system that enables businesses to connect their VoIP phone system to internet-enabled... Read More
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Vonage Business Solutions is a cloud-based communications solution suitable for small and midsize companies. The solution offers a business phone system that enables businesses to connect their VoIP phone system to internet-enabled... Read More
 
RingCentral Office logo
 
RingCentral Office is a cloud-based business phone solution that offers business communication tools for video, voice, fax and text. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and unlimited long-distance and... Read More
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RingCentral Office is a cloud-based business phone solution that offers business communication tools for video, voice, fax and text. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and unlimited long-distance and... Read More
 
Virtual Office by 8x8 logo
 
Virtual Office is a collection of comprehensive web-based business VoIP solutions from offered by 8x8. Enterprise grade phone service, virtual meetings, mobile applications, virtual contact centers and more are available to help companies... Read More
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Virtual Office is a collection of comprehensive web-based business VoIP solutions from offered by 8x8. Enterprise grade phone service, virtual meetings, mobile applications, virtual contact centers and more are available to help companies... Read More
 
Nextiva Office logo
 
Nextiva's Business VoIP solutions offer small businesses enterprise-level telephony service that helps them to streamline company's communications and establish an in-house VoIP phone system. It offers an integrated and scalable PBX... Read More
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Nextiva's Business VoIP solutions offer small businesses enterprise-level telephony service that helps them to streamline company's communications and establish an in-house VoIP phone system. It offers an integrated and scalable PBX... Read More

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FluentStream VoIP logo
 
FluentStream is a business phone solution designed for companies of all sizes. It offers call monitoring, telemarketing, IVR and reporting features within an integrated suite. The solution is available both in cloud-based and on-premise... Read More
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FluentStream is a business phone solution designed for companies of all sizes. It offers call monitoring, telemarketing, IVR and reporting features within an integrated suite. The solution is available both in cloud-based and on-premise... Read More
 
MegaPath logo
 
MegaPath is Business Voip software that works with medium to large-size businesses in any industry. The system offers companies Internet connectivity, unified communications, security services, managed networking services, and more. With... Read More
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MegaPath is Business Voip software that works with medium to large-size businesses in any industry. The system offers companies Internet connectivity, unified communications, security services, managed networking services, and more. With... Read More
 
Ooma Office logo
 
Ooma Office is a cloud-based VoIP solution that caters to small businesses across various industry verticals that helps them to manage their business operations. Ooma Office offers various capabilities offered by traditional IP PBX... Read More
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Ooma Office is a cloud-based VoIP solution that caters to small businesses across various industry verticals that helps them to manage their business operations. Ooma Office offers various capabilities offered by traditional IP PBX... Read More
 
Business Voice logo
 
Business Voice is a cloud-based VoiP solution created by PanTerra, which allows users to take or make calls from their office phone number, communicate with their team, and have file access, all from any device with an internet connection,... Read More
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Business Voice is a cloud-based VoiP solution created by PanTerra, which allows users to take or make calls from their office phone number, communicate with their team, and have file access, all from any device with an internet connection,... Read More
 
M2S logo
 

M2S

M2S is a cloud-based business VoIP solution for organizations of all sizes. The solution can be used in industries such as finance, hospitality, health care, transportation, professional services and insurance. Key features include... Read More
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M2S is a cloud-based business VoIP solution for organizations of all sizes. The solution can be used in industries such as finance, hospitality, health care, transportation, professional services and insurance. Key features include... Read More

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Dialpad logo
 
Dialpad is a cloud-based business VoIP solution for small businesses across various industry verticals. Key features include call routing, call controls, admin capabilities, voicemail, meetings and collaborations. Dialpad's custom... Read More
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Dialpad is a cloud-based business VoIP solution for small businesses across various industry verticals. Key features include call routing, call controls, admin capabilities, voicemail, meetings and collaborations. Dialpad's custom... Read More
 
NICE inContact Hosted Call Center logo
 
NICE inContact is a SaaS-based call center software that helps businesses to maximizes the quality of leads and minimizes the cost of client interaction. The solution comprises of many features required to process inbound support requests... Read More
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NICE inContact is a SaaS-based call center software that helps businesses to maximizes the quality of leads and minimizes the cost of client interaction. The solution comprises of many features required to process inbound support requests... Read More
 
Versature logo
 
Versature’s cloud-based business VoIP services provide Canadian companies with unified communications and call analytics solutions to help manage their business operations. Versature’s key features include auto attendants, click-to-dial,... Read More
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Versature’s cloud-based business VoIP services provide Canadian companies with unified communications and call analytics solutions to help manage their business operations. Versature’s key features include auto attendants, click-to-dial,... Read More
 
CALLTURE logo
 
CALLTURE Communications is a cloud-based phone service that helps business and residential users to communicate with their staff and clients via phone, email, chat, video and text messages. It includes an interactive voice recorder... Read More
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CALLTURE Communications is a cloud-based phone service that helps business and residential users to communicate with their staff and clients via phone, email, chat, video and text messages. It includes an interactive voice recorder... Read More
 
Five9 Cloud Contact Center logo
 
Five9 is an all-in-one cloud contact center solution for inbound, outbound, blended and omnichannel contact centers world-wide.  Powered by Practical AI, Five9 enables agents to provide customer experiences across phone, email, chat,... Read More
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Five9 is an all-in-one cloud contact center solution for inbound, outbound, blended and omnichannel contact centers world-wide.  Powered by Practical AI, Five9 enables agents to provide customer experiences across phone, email, chat,... Read More

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Twilio Voice API logo
 
Twilio's Voice API is a fully programmable VoIP system that helps companies make, manage and route calls to a browser, app, phone and more. Key features include call monitoring, call transcripts, call routing, PBX, auto dialer / predictive... Read More
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Twilio's Voice API is a fully programmable VoIP system that helps companies make, manage and route calls to a browser, app, phone and more. Key features include call monitoring, call transcripts, call routing, PBX, auto dialer / predictive... Read More
 
Ytel logo
 
Ytel is a cloud-based integrated marketing suite that caters to SMB call centers and businesses with dedicated phone support teams, helping them manage multi-channel communications. The solution offers features including automated... Read More
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Ytel is a cloud-based integrated marketing suite that caters to SMB call centers and businesses with dedicated phone support teams, helping them manage multi-channel communications. The solution offers features including automated... Read More
 
CorvisaOne logo
 
CorvisaOne is a cloud communications suite suited for companies that need features for managing inbound or outbound call centers or everyday business phone needs. CorvisaOne offers features such as ACD, queue and skills-based routing,... Read More
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CorvisaOne is a cloud communications suite suited for companies that need features for managing inbound or outbound call centers or everyday business phone needs. CorvisaOne offers features such as ACD, queue and skills-based routing,... Read More
 
Mitel logo
 
Mitel is a cloud-based VoIP phone system that offers collaboration and conferencing tools to enable information flow within the organization.  The solution enables system administrators to manage user settings, set preferences and... Read More
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Mitel is a cloud-based VoIP phone system that offers collaboration and conferencing tools to enable information flow within the organization.  The solution enables system administrators to manage user settings, set preferences and... Read More
 
3CX logo
 

3CX

3CX is a software-based PBX that works with SIP standard-based IP Phones, SIP trunks and VoIP Gateways. Pricing for 3CX is based on the number of simultaneous calls that the system supports. Solutions are tailored to different business... Read More
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3CX is a software-based PBX that works with SIP standard-based IP Phones, SIP trunks and VoIP Gateways. Pricing for 3CX is based on the number of simultaneous calls that the system supports. Solutions are tailored to different business... Read More
 

Buyer's Guide

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An automated attendant (commonly shortened to auto attendant) is a software application included in many business phone systems. Auto attendants are also known as “virtual receptionist software,” since these applications can perform many of the functions of a human receptionist.

Our buyer’s guide will cover the following topics:

What Is Auto Attendant Software?
Auto Attendant vs. IVR
How Auto Attendant Software Is Packaged
Common Functionality of Auto Attendant Software
Programming Tips

What Is Auto Attendant Software?

You know those voice menus you get when you call a local business? “Press 1 for Suzy, 2 for Bill” etc.? That’s an auto attendant.

The primary purpose of an auto attendant is to route incoming calls by listing options in a voice menu for callers to choose from (for example, “press 1 for sales, 2 for accounts receivable” etc.). Once the caller enters a number or symbol on her or his telephone keypad, the application automatically routes the call to the corresponding extension.

Auto attendants are NOT the fancy menus you get when you call your Internet provider to pay your bill, or when you call your credit card company to check your account balance. That’s a separate kind of system known as an interactive voice response (IVR) system. Let’s take a quick look at the differences in functionality between IVR systems and auto attendants to help you make an informed selection.

Auto Attendant vs. IVR

Auto attendants are commonly confused with IVR software. There are a number of distinctions between auto attendants and IVR systems:

  • User input
    IVR: Allows for voice response on the part of the caller (for example, “please state the reason you’re calling”).
    Auto attendant: Limited to numerical input (“press 1,” “press *” etc.).
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  • Self-service functionality
    IVR:> Allows callers to perform tasks over the phone, such as paying a bill or checking an account balance.
    Auto attendant: Routes callers to the proper extension.
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  • Business context
    IVR: Call centers that handle a high volume of inbound calls.
    Auto attendant: Smaller companies without large teams of dedicated sales or support agents.
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  • Menu structure
    IVR: Menus “branch out” into various sub-menus as callers choose different options.
    Auto attendant: Generally have just one or two menu levels. Many auto attendants have only one level, but some offer a few sub-menus to choose from (for example, for different departments).
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  • Call routing
    IVR: Routes callers into a call queue, where they wait on hold for the next available agent. The queue is configured and controlled by a software application known as Automatic Call Distribution or ACD, which usually integrates with the IVR system.
    Auto attendant: Routes callers directly to an extension. In some cases, auto attendants can be integrated with your call queue if your PBX system has ACD functionality (more commonly found in call center solutions than more basic PBX systems).

Typically, IVR systems are used in dedicated call centers, while auto attendants are used by local businesses and businesses that just need directory routing, e.g., dentists’ offices, law firms, consulting firms etc. IVR systems are both expensive and complex to program—they will be overkill for most small businesses, except small businesses that deal with unusually heavy inbound call volume.

IVR systems are generally sold on a standalone basis or they’re packaged in specialized software suites for call centers. Auto attendants, on the other hand, are packaged differently, as we’ll discuss now.

How Auto Attendant Software Is Packaged

Auto attendants are generally included as applications within Private Branch eXchange (PBX) systems. A PBX system is the interface between extensions in a business directory and broader telecommunications networks (e.g., the traditional phone network and the Internet). PBX systems are applications that serve as the core of business phone systems: Indeed, in most cases, the term “PBX” is simply a synonym for “phone system.”

The basic purpose of a PBX system is to enable routing control over both inbound and outbound calls. Most business phone systems are suites of PBX applications that include auto attendants alongside other applications, such as voicemail and call recording.

While most auto attendants are packaged in these PBX suites, some vendors offer them as stand-alone applications. Many of these standalone solutions also offer IVR functionality.

If you operate a call center, want to enable self-service options for inbound callers or want to place incoming calls into a queue, then you should consider a call center system. Smaller businesses can generally get by with PBX suites designed for their needs—many of which include auto attendants.

Common Functionality of Auto Attendant Software

Unlike IVR systems, auto attendants are straightforward, easy-to-program applications. Auto attendants include the following standard functionality:

Voice menu Allows you to record your own voice menus. Some vendors also offer professional menu recording services.
Dial-by-name directory A special auto-attendant phone feature that allows you to reach employee extensions by spelling out the employee’s first or last name with your telephone keypad. Particularly useful for larger offices.
Introductory greeting Allows you to record a greeting that welcomes inbound callers and describes your business or brand.
After-hours mode Allows you to program the system to offer different greetings and options based on your business’s hours of operation (e.g., informs callers that your business is now closed when it enters after-hours mode). Can also be programmed to handle weekends and holidays.

The capabilities of auto attendants can be greatly enhanced by PBX call routing functionality, such as find me/follow me (which forwards calls from office phones to mobile devices after a fixed number of rings) and hunt groups (also known as ring groups; forwards calls to a group of extensions defined by business role, rather than to a single extension). Find me/follow me enables callers to reach employees on mobile devices as well as desk phones from the auto attendant menu. Hunt groups are useful for department-level options in the menu; for instance, when an inbound caller presses #1 for “sales,” the desk phones of every employee in sales will ring.

By using hunt groups with an auto attendant, small businesses that have multiple employees dedicated to answering the phones can set up a very basic call center solution. You can choose to have all your agents’ phones ring at the same time when a caller makes a selection in the auto attendant menu. Alternatively, you can have phones ring sequentially in a round-robin scheme (employee A gets the call first, and if s/he doesn’t answer the call goes to employee B, then C etc.).

Programming Tips

We’ve done industry benchmarking research to determine best practices for programming both IVR systems and auto attendants. Our design report on IVR systems can be found here, and our auto attendant report can be found here. We interacted with hundreds of IVR systems and auto attendants to determine the benchmarking standards detailed in these reports.

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