Scenario 3 – Auto Attendant / IVR with distributed workforce

Advancements in online hosted PBX telephone systems and the use of smartphone apps for Android and IOS are making this option very popular. Customers are used to answering simple questions by pressing option 1,2 or 3 and it helps an organisation better plan for their human resources to answer calls and provide sales and customer support.

Pre Sales vs Post Sales Support

The conversations between your staff and prospects is different to the conversations with customers so it makes sense to separate callers in this way. The most common call flow scenario is:

Professional Online Customer Support Agents can work for your team from anywhere
  1. Sales
  2. Support
  3. Accounts

There are several technical steps in the process of setting this type of hosted PBX up and these steps are listed below.

Technical Hosted PBX Setup Requirements

Main Indial number

You need to order or port one across and use this number as the base from which all actions originate. These days this number can be a landline or mobile number based in almost any country so the choice of number is usually made by the marketing department depending on how they feel prospects and customers will relate to the number and what they want callers to be able to do.

Although you may not think very deeply about the functionality at this stage but it is smart to consider that SMS is now a common and acceptable way to communicate with customers. Landline numbers don’t usually come with SMS functionality (mobiles of course do).

With new Cloud PBX systems your main indial number can be a mobile number with an Auto Attendant. Best of all you can also send SMS messages from your smartphone softphone app or even from the website agent login.

IVR Initial Greeting


You can use robot sounding voices to greet your callers and all you need to do is provide the script but it is far better to have a human record a generic greeting that gives callers the name of the business and provides them with the options (or prompts) for them to take action.

Note that this greeting is often repeated in case callers don’t remember all the options the first time and sometimes callers won’t choose an option.

The goal at the end of this initial greeting is for every call to choose an option but if they don’t the system should be setup to take all “undecided” calls to a general inbound area that you choose.

Voicemail Greeting

An important aspect of designing a hosted telephone system with Auto Attendant / IVR features is to ensure that callers are educated about your call handling procedures so they feel confident to navigate the options confidently.

The Voicemail Greeting essentially lets them know that they’ll need to leave a message and give you the opportunity to tell them what you need from them in that message. Important elements include:

  • The callers name
  • Reason for the call
  • Return phone number

If the caller is an existing client or their call is regarding an accounts matter you may want them to leave the invoice number of statement number or some other information that enables your support team to reply with useful information and help rather than just a return call to get this information.

Extensions receiving and answering calls

In a small hosted PBX telephone system an option on the IVR will take the caller to just one extension. In larger organisations the one option will make several extensions in a call group ring and anyone can pick up that call.

At this stage you need to consider what happens when the extension is NOT answered. Things to consider are:

  • how long should the extension ring for (15 seconds say)
  • what should happen if the extension does not answer the call
    • An unavailable message should play that gives callers information and then instructions on what to do next
    • the call could go into a call queue with a message playing and looping until the call is answered
  • the caller leaves a voice message
  • the voice message is sent to the sales and customer service team
  • the sales and support agent returns the customers call

Learn more about Extensions

Unattended and not available extensions

When a call is not answered within the required time and a message is played the caller is usually asked to leave a detailed message with their name and a return number. This message is stored in the telephone systems voicemail system and can be accessed a couple different ways, including:

  1. the voicemail audio file is emailed as an attachment to one or more email address
  2. the voicemail button on a handset or softphone agent flashes to show there is a message and the support agent can dial in to access the voicemail messages
  3. the voicemail message can be accessed via an online message system
  4. a text message can be sent with a link to the audio file

The main issues in these scenarios is ensuring that the support agent can access the message and respond to the caller and problems can include:

  • email is not sent or has not been received by the support agent (how can they possibly have it resent or get access to it). There are several stages that can cause issues in this method, including:
    • domain and DNS issues
    • spam
    • the email sending system and authentication issues
  • one support agents checks the voicemail system and deletes a message accidentally without returning the callers message but no one can now access the message
  • the callers message audio file is in a format that cannot be opened on the support agents device

A very good solution here is to have an SMS message send to one or more numbers with link to the audio file. This means that the audio message file can be access from anywhere by anyone and even forwarded on for someone else to deal with.

Getting back to the customer or prospect after they leave a message

People lead busy lives and are often not available when the support agent returns their call. In some situations the callers phone system enables them to receive voice messages and can result in a game of phone tag between the caller and the support agent. In this scenario it would be ideal if the support agent could simply send an SMS message so the caller knows that the call was received.

Support person replies with a call or a text message

A reply SMS could

  • contain the answer or
  • let them know what the support agent has done for them or
  • it could simply give instructions for when the caller makes another attempt to call the organisation for support or information.

Sending an SMS is a way for the company to have evidence that a message was sent to answer the callers query and it may start a back and forth SMS message that is acceptable and also solves the customer problems.

Outbound Calls from an Extension

One feature about extensions is that they can make outbound calls through your central Indial number so that every call is traceable but more importantly the customer sees that the call is coming from your main number, rather than a remote users Direct Indial number or mobile number.

This feature is good to manage the inbound call flow when you have a number of support agents who can all help the customer.

A technical consideration is that you’ll need to have your main Indial phone number set up as trusted number (or what is often called a Calling Line Indicator).

Technical Considerations for Outbound calls

Most of us pick up a phone and dial a phone number we’ve dialled for years because we are familiar with the number format. For example if we are in NSW we don’t both dialling the 02 because we don’t need to – same for Victorian’s calling other 03 numbers etc. This “logic” however is often configured as part of the telephone systems “dial plan” to make it easier for users.

Telephone operators see telephone numbers as part of a larger system that is centred around country codes, region (or area) codes and then numbers so when you have special numbers like 1300, 1800 and 13 numbers your telephone system needs to be configured to make it easy to call these numbers.