At Your Service: The pros and cons of automated answering systems

When I call a company, I like the personal touch. I want to be able to talk with someone immediately. At Signature Worldwide, we have a receptionist — actually we refer to her as the director of first impressions — and she is terrific. She is exactly how we want our customers to be greeted when they call or visit our company. She is an important part of our brand.

However, I understand why some companies go to an automated system. They are looking to reduce costs and the receptionist may not be needed, especially if you are getting fewer phone calls or visitors.

For better or worse, these automated systems are becoming more popular. Your customers have experienced them before and typically know how to react when they get one. That does not mean they like them.

I know one equipment dealer who removed the system because customers were so unhappy with it. The customers felt strongly that when they called, they wanted to speak with a person immediately.

If you feel an automated system is in the best interest of your company and your customers, then consider the following when implementing your automated phone system:

  • Keep the menu items to just a few — no more than four. No one wants to hear, “For rental, press eight.”
  • Put your most requested departments first on the menu.
  • Allow a convenient option to talk with a person. Early in your message, indicate that by pressing zero, the caller can talk with someone.
  • Make certain the greeting is upbeat. This is your customer’s first impression of your company, so make sure it is the right one. This also applies if a person is answering the phone. Both automated and in-person, the greeting always should be positive and complete.
  • Test the system. Make certain all menu options are going to the right department. Simulate a customer using your system.

The reality is that most customers prefer to talk with a real person, especially in the rental world.

Installing an automated system can be a source of frustration to your customers and is typically a step backwards in terms of providing an exceptional customer experience.

If you have one or need to install one, make sure it is the best possible experience for your customers — easy to use and navigate, with a quick exit to talk with a representative.

Barry Himmel is senior vice president for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, Ohio-based consulting company offering sales and customer service training, marketing and mystery shopping services for the equipment rental industry. He can be reached at 614-766-5101 or For more information, call 800-398-0518 or visit