An automated attendant (AA) is a telephony system that transfers incoming calls to various extensions as specified by callers, without the intervention of a human operator. An AA may also be called a virtual receptionist. Most AAs can route calls to landline phones, mobile phones , VoIP devices, or other AAs.
A typical AA offers incoming callers a menu to which they respond by pressing various keys on their telephones' DTMF ("touch-tone") keypads. For example, the machine might greet callers with "Welcome to XYZ Enterprises. For sales, press 1. For service, press 2. For hours of operation, press 3. For other questions and concerns, press 4. To repeat this menu, press 5. To speak with a customer service representative, press 0 or stay on the line."
Typical AA routing steps include transfers of calls to specific extensions, transfer of calls to voicemail boxes, transfers of calls to submenus, presentation of standard recorded messages, transfer to a human operator or customer service representative, option to repeat the choices in a specific menu, and option to terminate the call ("hang up"). Some AA systems will end calls automatically, or direct callers to a human operator, after a predetermined period during which the caller fails to press any tone keys. Some AA systems use different menus and processes at various times of day (for example, business and nonbusiness hours).
A wide variety of businesses, government agencies, and other institutions use AAs. A sophisticated form of AA known as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) accepts a combination of voice telephone input and tone keypad selection and provides appropriate responses in various media formats.