Main Number Handling – Cloud PBX Auto Attendants

We’ve covered how to setup an Exchange Auto Attendant for your Skype for Business environment. Microsoft has recently released a new offering, the Cloud PBX Auto Attendant.

The two are very similar in their functionality, with some key differences. Firstly, Exchange Auto Attendants ( are an Exchange function, and not a Skype for Business function. Secondly, Exchange Auto Attendants can be in Exchange online or Exchange on-prem, work with SfB users regardless of where they’re homed, and can even integrate with other PBXs.


Cloud PBX Auto Attendants, being so new to the world, haven’t yet achieved a similar level of functionality. If you’re reading this blog a number of months after it was written, hit the Cloud PBX Auto Attendant tag to check for a blog covering updates!

When you’re configuring or calling a Cloud PBX Auto Attendant, the “look and feel” is nearly identical to that of Exchange Auto Attendants. You get the same informational, business-hours, and after-hours greetings.

When it comes to scheduling your business hours, Exchange Auto Attendants offer 15 minute granularity, where Cloud PBX Auto Attendants offer 30 minute granularity. You can, however, still set as many open/closed periods as you’d like.

Speech recognition is similar as well, and when you configure a name as a menu option, the Auto Attendant will recognize that name

Directory Search

Directory Search is an area where things differ between the two products. In Cloud PBX Auto Attendant, callers can speak or spell the name of any SfB ONLINE user, and that user can be homed in any of the regions that the tenant has. That user doesn’t need a PSTN Calling license, or a PSTN Calling number. The caller cannot reach a Cloud PBX user who has PSTN connectivity through an on-prem connection, either through CCE or a full on-prem pool, nor can they reach users who are home on-prem.

A feature of both Exchange Auto Attendant and Cloud PBX Auto Attendant is the ability to set a scope, or limit, of who callers can search for. You might want to protect VIPs, or only allow callers to reach sales staff.  If you happen to be part of an organization with more than 50,000 users, you cannot use name recognition to search for a user – but all other speech recognition works.


With Exchange Auto Attendants, you provide an extension for the operator, and when a caller presses 0, they are transferred to that extension. The “extension” can be any number, so long as you configure Exchange and your PBX/SfB to permit the call.

Cloud PBX Auto Attendant allows Online SfB users with a Cloud PBX license to be operators, regardless of what region they’re in. A PSTN Number or PSTN Calling user licenses isn’t required. You can also send calls directly to voicemail, or to a Cloud PBX Call Queue (the Cloud PBX equivalent of a Response Group).

You cannot use SfB on-prem users, Cloud PBX users with have PSTN connectivity through an on-prem connection, either through CCE or a full on-prem pool. You also can’t use on-prem only services like response groups.

Menu Options

Menu options are straight-forward. Indicate the dialpad button for a caller to press, and then the action to take when that button is pressed. One difference here versus Exchange Auto Attendants is that there is native functionality to transfer the call to a Cloud PBX Call Queue, instead of you having to indicate a phone number or SIP address.

The GUI is a bit different here compared to Exchange Auto Attends. You get buttons arranged in a row, with a list of the options you’ve configured below:


Other Bits and Pieces

You’ll need a Cloud PBX Service Number to assign to your Cloud PBX Auto Attendant, and you can use both tolled and toll-free. You can use a new service number for setup and testing, and port in your existing number.

The timing of the port may prove awkward if this is your main number. You can setup your Cloud PBX Auto Attendant with a new number, and have your existing main number forwarded to it. When you receive notification that the number has ported, you can edit your Cloud PBX Auto Attendant to use the new number directly.

Your Tenant needs to have E5, or E3 plus Cloud PBX licensing, in order to have Cloud PBX Auto Attendant available.

If you want your Cloud PBX Auto Attendant to direct calls to a voicemail box, you should setup a phantom user (a user account with no real human attached to it).

Evaluation and Adoption

Your first step in evaluating and (possibly) adopting Cloud PBX Auto Attendants is to document the functionality of your current auto attendant. Then, review the functionality and the limitations mentioned above. If Cloud PBX Auto Attendant can do everything you need, then you’re all set – time to deploy!

If you identify some gaps, you have two choices. One, you can change your requirements to match what’s available now, or two, you can wait. Additional functionality is expected to be released as development occurs.

Be sure to check the Office 365 Roadmap to see if a feature you’re interested in is on the way.

You can also provide feedback on what features you feel are important with Skype for Business.

Learn More

Head to the Skype Operations Framework academy page to learn more!

Main Number Handling – Auto Attendant vs Response Group

I’ve covered Exchange Unified Messaging Auto-Attendants and Skype for Business Response Groups in some depth in previous posts, and I wanted to do a comparison between the two. The two share some overall similarities, with some major difference that will lead you to select one over the other, and minor differences that you’ll want to be aware of.

Microsoft recently released two Skype for Business Online features: Cloud PBX Call Queues and Cloud PBX Auto Attendant. These two SfBO features are roughly analogous to Exchange Auto Attendant and SfB on-premises Response Groups, however to be clear I am not referring to the Cloud PBX functions in this post unless I explicitly mention them.

Main Feature Comparison

In the following table, I state whether functionality is available in Response Group and Auto Attendant scenarios, and in some cases I provide some more clarity and detail beyond a “yes” or “no”.


Response Group

Auto Attendant

Anonymous call out

Yes, user can call as the Response Group


Management delegation

Yes, per Response Group (and associated Queues and Groups)

Not very granular, only to “Exchange UM” RBAC role within Exchange.

User lookup/dial by name (speak or spell)




Scheduled to the minute. Two open periods per day, otherwise closed.

Scheduled in 15 minute blocks, any number of blocks may be open or closed.

After-hours and holiday support



Calls delivered to

Natively to PC SfB client. Voicemail and other timeout/overflow options available.

To any SfB client, or any phone number reachable by Exchange – including PBX extensions and PSTN numbers.

Honors Team-ring, Delegation, SimRing, Call pickup, mobile clients

No, only rings the user’s PC or desk phone.



Yes, multiple choices and levels. Calls delivered to Queue, not directly to an endpoint.

9 choices, one level. Calls delivered to a number, mailbox, and can play a message

Caller can dial 0 to reach operator at anytime



Call queuing

Yes – call is delivered to a queue

No – call is transferred to the number specified

Multiple language support



Voice recognition



Text-to-speech or recorded greetings



Can read location and business hours to caller



Formal agent logon mode (user logs into and out of a queue)



Online or on-prem server based?

On-prem servers only.

(Use Cloud PBX Call Queues for online deployments)

Both. Exchange UM Auto-Attendants have the same functionality on-prem and online.

Can deliver calls to on-prem user



Can deliver calls to online user

No, users must be homed on-prem.


Can assign multiple phone numbers to reach it



Can record greetings via telephone



The details in this table refer to native functionality of the Auto Attendant or Response Group solution. For example, you can only natively assign one Line URI to a Response Group workflow. If you wanted to have multiple numbers to reach a workflow, there are a number of ways outside of Response Group functionality that would permit you to do that.

Final Considerations

An additional consideration that you’ll need to make is the topology of the Exchange and SfB environments. If a call comes in from the PSTN via an SBA in a branch office and has to traverse the WAN to a central office to Exchange and SfB servers, the two solutions are equal. If you are using Exchange Online, calls to your Auto Attendant now have to traverse the Internet to the cloud.

In the not so distant past, I worked with a client in a “PSTN into the SBA” scenario, where calls had to traverse the WAN to reach Response Groups, and the WAN and an underspec’d VPN to a privately hosted Exchange system. That VPN was spec’d for email (and the specs weren’t even generous for that) not voice, so voice, Auto Attendant, and Subscriber Access suffered accordingly.

And finally, make sure you’re supporting REFER, and that your firewalls allow appropriate media flow between all of your clients and servers involved in these scenarios. Appropriate levels of bandwidth and QoS are also a must.

Up next: Cloud PBX Auto Attendants and Call Queues, the Cloud PBX cousins of Exchange Auto Attendants and SfB on-prem Response Groups.