I’ve written quite a bit about SfB Response Groups, so let’s dive into their Exchange cousin, the Auto Attendant – AA for short.
Auto Attendants allow Exchange to answer calls to your organization. You can play greetings, set schedules, allow callers to reach your users by saying or spelling a user’s name or dialing their extension, or you can provide them a list of options that they select by pressing a key.
To create an Auto Attendant, open the Exchange Admin Center, select UM dial plans, open the dial plan that you want the AA created under, and click the + in the Auto Attendant section.
You’ll need to provide a name, indicate if you want the Auto Attendant active immediately after you create it (you might not if you’re preparing for a future migration), indicate whether you want the AA to respond to voice commands, and provide a phone number to reach the Auto Attendant at. Note that you don’t *have* to provide a phone number, which is handy for lab work and setup before a migration. You will of course need to circle back and provide at least one phone number before anyone from the PSTN can use your AA to reach your organization.
If you’re in a SfB environment, you’ll need to run the New-CsExUmContact command to create a contact object so that your SfB environment knows about the AA endpoint. Non-SfB environments will need to follow different setup steps which I won’t cover here.
Now that your AA is created, you can double-click it to configure additional options.
Under General, you see the same options as when you created the AA, joined by a few others: setting a language, business name, and business location. Set the name and location accurately, as they can be read to a caller by the Auto Attendant. Here, you can also set a backup Auto-Attendant, that callers can be sent to when voice recognition isn’t working well.
Under Greetings, you can set business hours and after-hours greetings. You can also add an informational message, and optionally set this message so that callers cannot skip it. This is useful for things like unexpected closures dues to weather
Under Business Hours, you can set the timezone for the Auto Attendant, and then you can configure your business hours as granular as 15 minute intervals. Here, you can also specify your Holidays using a start and end date, and specify a Holiday Greeting. Note that the holiday greeting is played from 12:01am to 11:59PM on the day(s) you configure. You can’t have the holiday greeting start at the close of business on the last day of work. You can use the announcement feature for this, or sneak in at the end of the day and reconfigure the holiday greeting to have started that day. Note that after the holiday greeting plays, callers are sent to the after-hours greeting and menu.
Menu Navigation (or not)
I’m going to skip menu navigation for now…
Address Book and Operator Access
Under address book and operator access, you can specify what permissions callers have to reach users, user voicemail without ringing the user, for searching the directory for users, and for transferring to an operator. Note that “operator extension” here is the operators actual phone number, not what key you want the caller to press.
Under dialing authorization, you can set where users can dial via “outdialing”.
Menu Navigation (for real)
This section is the meat and potatoes of the AA is configuration. There are two sections, business hours and non-business hours. The options within each section are the same:
- You can upload a record prompt file – if you don’t, the AA will read the options for each entry using text-to-speech.
- You can enable or disable menu navigation, but you do need to enable menu navigation for your AA to work, so go ahead and enable it.
If you click the + or pencil button, you can created or edit a menu entry. You need to configure the prompt, which will be read by the AA using text-to-speech if you haven’t uploaded a greeting.
You can pick when key you want to assign this action to. You can select 1-9 or timeout. 0 is reserved for reaching the operator at the extension programmed earlier.
When the key is pressed, you can optionally play an audio file. After then you can select one additional action:
- Transfer to an extension (This can be an internal or external number, so long as it is permitted by the dialing authorization rules you configured above)
- Transfer to another auto-attendant (this is useful if you want different languages, or transfer someone to a different country or group, but please don’t try to build an IVR solution with multiple Auto Attendants)
- You can leave a voice message for a user, without ringing them. This usually goes to a generic voicemail box
- You can have the text-to-speech reach your business hours (you entered this carefully under the “general” section)
- You can have the text-to-speech reach your business location (you entered this carefully under the “general” section)
The business hours and location that are read out are what you entered in the “general” section. If they are pronounced funny with correct spelling, you may need to spell them phonetically so that they sound proper. The text string that you enter is never seen by users, so you don’t need to worry about weird spellings.
If you don’t set a timeout option, callers will be offered the same menu again. I prefer this option, since there is no explicit keypress to repeat the menu choices.
Response Groups and Auto Attendants share some common features, but differ considerably with others. Up next, a comparison of Auto Attendant and Response Group capabilities and functionality.