Auto Attendant vs Receptionist, What’s Better For Your Business?

Joel Goldstein - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A short and sweet overview of the pros and cons

Since the dawn of the telephone age, consumers have been forming impressions and opinions of the businesses they patronize by the way their call was handled by the person who picked up the phone. For any business that could afford it, that person was almost always a trained receptionist, skilled in the art of taking care of the person at the other end of the line. The receptionist directed calls, answered questions, and did his or her level best to ensure that the customer’s needs were met. However, as early as 1949 with the invention of the answering machine, technology was hard at work trying to make the receptionist obsolete. 

Today’s phone answering services, or “Auto Attendants” are sophisticated, capable systems that are cheap enough and flexible enough to be accessible to any business, of any size. And while they can’t yet do everything a live human receptionist can, the gap is now small enough that the question, “Do I even need a receptionist anymore” is one that must be explored.

So, let’s discuss the points in favor of each of the two options. 

Auto Attendant 

  • They’re Cheap. Auto Attendant systems end up being significantly cheaper than having human receptionists on salary, especially when you account for training and turnover costs. 
  • They’re Reliable. People take sick days, computers do not. And, a computer never gets lazy or gets into a bad mood either.
  • They Sound Professional. Consumers associate automatic answering services with large corporations, hearing yours may cause them to assume that your business is larger and more capable than they initially thought.
  • They Work 24/7. That one’s self explanatory. 

Live Receptionist

They’re Friendly. People much prefer talking to a fellow human than to a computer, and speaking to an actual person can serve to set the caller at ease.

They’re Capable. A person can do more than a computer can, and if well trained, a receptionist can solve problems for the caller without the need to transfer the call to anybody else.

They Save Time. Not every caller will know exactly which desk or department they need to speak to, a receptionist will. This can spare the caller the infuriating experience of being passed around to 3 or 4 people until they find the one they need to speak to.

They’re an Asset. People have potential for growth, and if you’re running a good company you may discover that the person you hired to answer the phones has a talent for another area of your business, maybe one that you’ve had trouble finding in the past.

In Summation

There are many factors to consider when you choose whether to hire a receptionist or install an auto attendant, some of them will be highly specific to your particular business while others are pretty much universal. You need to take the time to figure out just how much contact you have with your customers by phone and, you need to know just how much new business is being generated via phone. This will help give you an idea of what level of resources you should devote to this area of the customer experience. Once you figure that out, your decision will necessarily be affected by what you can afford.

If you can afford it, having a well-trained and capable receptionist provides too much value to be replaced by an automated system. This realization has sparked a return to the old fashioned receptionist model by many successful businesses across the globe.The benefits of happy and frustration free customers are obvious to the bottom line, and until they invent a True AI, people will be better at keeping other people happy than computers.

If you’re a small business or a startup though, having a receptionist may simply be out of your budget. If that’s the case, the good news is that the latest generation of automated phone systems can approximate much of what a good receptionist will do for you. It is absolutely vital however that these systems be set up to be as friendly to the caller as possible. The goal should be to get the caller on the phone with the right person, not to direct them to an impersonal information dump.  

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