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An Auto Attendant, or virtual receptionist, is an extremely valuable tool. It frees up personnel and prevents callers from waiting on someone to answer their call. However, it is not the ideal solution for every business.

There are situations when you do not need an Auto Attendant. In addition to the obvious situations that include a lack of phone stations and insufficient call volume, I have listed a few of the major exceptions to an automated phone answering system.

When personalized, human interaction is part of your value proposition.There are some companies that will never install a virtual receptionist. They want the level of customer service that can only be met by human beings. I know a very successful international company that has two ladies working together to answer calls every day. They can afford the very best technology has to offer, but prefer the personal touch of their very capable human switchboard.

When your menu of options takes too long to navigate. It can be alluring to create a menu that includes everyone in your organization, but be honest. You don’t want to wade through 5 minutes of menu options. If your menu of options takes more than a few seconds to navigate, your caller will become frustrated. If you can’t keep it brief then hire a human operator.

When your menu options are confusing. There are times when I have to replay a phone menu more than once to figure out which option to choose. While in college, I worked in the phone bank of a big box retailer. I remember a caller who asked for our garden department. When I asked if they wanted inside or outside garden, they wanted to know why all gardens weren’t outside. Make sure your menu options are easy for your caller to understand and navigate.

When you need to screen calls. I have a friend who has a human receptionist because he doesn’t want to receive every call from every salesperson and vendor. With an Auto Attendant allowing anyone to choose his extension at will, his ringing phone would be a constant distraction at times when he needs to be focused on more important tasks. His human attendant only bothers him with selected calls, as his schedule allows.

When you can intercept calls to free up sales staff. While working in the phone bank, my colleagues and I were not just human operators. We were a knowledge base. The staff on the sales floor didn’t need to turn away from the customer in front of them just to give the store hours, directions, or look up a price. Our job was to answer the simple questions so they could be focused on the shopper beside them.

There are other situations that would eliminate your need for an Auto Attendant. Under the right conditions though, automated call answering is an irreplaceable resource. You need to look at your unique situation and see if it would help or hinder.