Whether you’re setting up a telephone system for the first time for a new business, or replacing your currentbusiness phone system, one of the things you will need to consider is how you will be dealing with incoming calls. Possibly not something you’ve thought a great deal about, but how you greet your callers can be very important, and the options are endless.
Main billing number or direct dial numbers
The first thing to decide is whether you will advertise one telephone number for all enquiries, or individual numbers for different departments or members of staff. You could choose to do a mixture – many businesses have one main telephone number for general calls, and in addition individuals advertise their direct dial number on their email signature and business cards. This will largely depend on the type of organisation you work for. In some businesses it’s not appropriate for staff to give out their own numbers – and there’s always the risk that if that person is on holiday or off sick an important call could go unanswered.
Love them or hate them, auto-attendants serve a purpose. To clarify, this is where callers are offered the option to press 1 for sales, 2 for accounts etc. From a business perspective they are ideal – callers are directed to the correct department without the additional expense of a receptionist. It’s even possible to allow callers to dial by extension number or by name. Auto-attendants can also be multi-level – so when the caller selects 1 for sales, they can then have more options to choose from to narrow down which department they need. It also gives the impression of a larger business. Who needs to know that Suzy works in Sales, Accounts and Admin??
However…. from a caller point of view this can be frustrating. How many times have you called large organisations and got to the end of the long list of options and forgotten what number 2 was for? The key to a successful auto-attendant is to keep it as simple and clear as possible. Ideally you will have a professional recording but alternatively ask a brave member of staff to read out the script after a bit of practice.
Ring groups, hunt groups
Whether you choose to have an auto-attendant or not, it’s likely that your call will ring a group of phones. Most telephone systems offer a variety of different types of groups:
- Ring group/Simultaneous ring – all phones within the group ring at the same time, relying on the staff to answer fairly. Possibly the quickest way to get the calls answered, but can be noisy in small environments and there will always be some members of the team less keen to pick up the phone…
- Hunt group/Sequential – calls will ring each member of the team in turn, always in the same order. This can be useful where there is a “preferred” order of ringing. Calls can hit your most successful sales people first before moving on to those less experienced.
- Cyclic group /Longest idle – calls will ring each member of the team in turn, starting with a different member of the group depending on who answered last. Ideal for teams where there is no priority over who answers the call, and great in sales teams so everyone gets a fair chance of answering a call.
You can generally overflow from one group to another – so if all members of the Sales team are busy, overflow to Marketing where somebody will be able to assist or at least take a message.
Another decision you will need to make is whether calls should go to voicemail if unanswered. This is again something we find customers either love or avoid like the plague. The benefit of the call going to voicemail is that the call is not “missed”. If a caller simply hangs up because there is no answer, the chances are (unless you’re hot on checking your call logging or UC journal!) that person will never be called back.
The downside of voicemail is that it relies on your staff to pick up the messages and act on them. If you do choose to use voicemail for your main number or ring groups, assign a specific user to listen to messages and return the call or pass them to the appropriate staff member (and an extra person as backup for lunch periods and holidays).
Many business owners feel that voicemail doesn’t give the best impression and that every single call should be answered. Great concept in an ideal world but for many small businesses where staff are thin on the ground, voicemail is a brilliant feature.
Now we’re getting into serious call handling! Many organisations that you call on a day to day basis will be using contact centre for dealing with incoming calls. If the following are important to you, you should consider contact centre:
- Call queuing (with the option to tell the caller whereabouts in the queue they are)
- Distribution of calls with prioritisation based on the inbound number dialled, the caller’s CLI, and the caller’s geographical location
- The ability to offer call-backs when all staff are busy
- Real-time and historical reporting
Contact centre programming requires a great deal of preparation and if you do go down this route, expect to spend a lot of time discussing your requirements in minute detail with your system provider pre-installation. This is purely to make sure you get the best out of your new system.