Automated phone menus are a good tool for any business to have, but they’re tricky to get right.

Think about all the times you’ve called a business or a bank and had to go through the menu’s monotony. Nobody wants to make their phone menus tedious and uninspiring, but it’s a fate many succumb to.

So many menu options you forget which number you need, ridiculously long wait times, the same music on loop every 60 seconds, being disconnected before reaching an actual human being(!)—there’s a list of potentially maddening things to drive your callers, and your customers, away.

And yet these things continue to plague call centers and businesses everywhere. Obviously people don’t like talking to robots, but the stats confirm this: according to a 2015 Consumer Report 75% of people described the experience of waiting to talk to a person on the phone “Highly annoying,” and an additional 57% said that they got so frustrated they hung up the phone before resolving their problem.

Sending callers to voicemail isn’t a viable solution, either. According to Forbes, 80% of callers who end up at a voicemail don’t leave a message. Younger generations have largely rendered voicemails obsolete, and who can blame them? Most voicemails don’t get returned quickly, if at all.

Despite this chaotic phone landscape, 80% of respondents to that 2015 Consumer Report said they prefer above all else to call companies when they have an issue or a question.

The key to filling this desire then is to have a quick and convenient phone menu. Don’t make things complicated trying to save money—callers should be directed to real people as quickly as possible to ensure they stay satisfied.

«Remember this: keeping an existing client is significantly easier and cheaper than attracting new ones.»

Here’s a checklist to ensure your automated phone menu system is working to aid, and not to annoy, your callers:

  1. Keep your phone menu system simple

    Don’t make callers listen to a long recording with tons of options, such as “Press one for this department, Press two for that department,” and so on. Keep it simple—you should never make a caller listen to six or more voice menu options.

  2. Give callers an easy way to connect to an operator

    Want to really stand out? Make speaking to a live operator the first option on your phone menu. That’s what most people want anyway, so even if giving them that option right away might make your call center agents or employees busier, it’s also bound to make your customers happier.

  3. Use caller ID to route callers intelligently

    Caller ID lets your phone system recognize who’s calling. This means you can separate existing customers and unknown callers into different call menus to maximize service. For example, you give existing customers the chance to speak to the account manager they’ve talked to previously, while new callers are directed to the main phone menu.

  4. Make your phone menu sound professional

    Larger companies sometimes hire professional voiceover artists to record their outbound greeting and phone menu options. Smaller companies should find someone within the company who has a soothing, professional-sounding voice. Using both a man and woman will spice things up, too. Perhaps the female voice is heard first when someone calls and the male voice comes in after making the first menu selection, or vice versa. By mixing it up, you’ll keep callers interested and engaged.

  5. Some tips for a successful, professional-sounding phone menu:

    Match your tone and your jargon to your brand. If your company imports and sells British goods, have someone with a British accent record your phone greeting and menu options. If you sell surfboards, sound like a surfer and say ‘dude’ a lot.

    • Be friendly, relaxed, and authentic.
    • Speak in a soothing tone.
    • Eliminate background noise.
    • If necessary, write a script and practice it.

    For more, see the Seven Best Business Voicemail Greetings.

  6. Be a little different

    Most of us hear the usual “Press one for this, Press two for that” drill too often. If there is a way you can make your phone menu a little more creative, especially to match your brand, do it. For example, you could consider using a touch of humor or irony (if it fits your brand, is actually funny, and in no way causes callers to spend more time listening to your recordings and menus). Be careful here though, uniqueness is a double-edged sword. It can help your branding if done right, but it could also turn customers away if mishandled.

  7. Regularly analyze caller behavior and adjust your phone menu accordingly

    Just as Google Analytics can help you improve the effectiveness of your website, your business phone system’s analytics can help you better understand which menu options callers chose most frequently, among other things. With that information, you can update your phone menu to improve the call experience. For example, if you learn that a majority of callers press option four to speak with someone in customer support, then consider making that the first option.

  8. Know how you will measure your phone menu’s success

    What is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for your phone menu? Is it to reduce operating costs or to increase sales? Determine what your top business goals are for your phone menu and then use your analytics to measure how well you are (or aren’t) meeting those goals.

  9. Alert customers to important updates

    If you’re a service company and there’s currently an outage in your service, update your phone menu to let callers know up front. Tell them you’re aware of the outage and are working to resolve it, then give them an option to speak to an agent. This is a good idea for any important update or info you have.

  10. Know your audience

    When creating your automated phone menu, you need to know who the majority of callers will be. ‘Who are my customers?’ is the most important question you’ll ever answer as a businessman. After you know your audience, you need to ask yourself ‘What do they typically want when they call?’If you design your phone menu with these questions in mind, you’re more likely to give your callers the best experience possible.

  11. Use your phone menu to keep callers from going to voicemail

    As previously mentioned, callers generally don’t trust voicemails to be returned, and voicemail itself is a huge productivity drain for workers. In fact, some major companies like Coca-Cola and JP Morgan & Chase have all but eliminated landline voicemail boxes for their employees. Don’t risk callers being sent, unwillingly, to voicemail. Build your phone menu following the advice above to route calls quickly, painlessly, and intelligently to your employees so callers don’t have a reason to be aggravated. At a time when customers are increasingly demanding better service, your phone menu has never been more important.

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