We get a lot of support tickets from customers that are confused over the difference between "Voicemail" and "Auto Attendants" and thus tend to use the terms interchangeably. "IVR" also gets thrown around a lot as well, just to add further confusion to the mix. There seem to be a few factors that play into this understandable confusion:
- They all use pre-recorded messages
- Voicemail and Auto Attendants are often used in concert
- IVR and Auto Attendant functions often overlap
- The tech industry has a tendency to use its own vocabulary
Words matter, so let's describe how they are different.
Voicemail is the modern-day answer to the classic Answering Machine. A Voicemail Box is typically associated with a specific extension and allows callers to leave a message after hearing a greeting recorded by the mailbox owner. Notifications about new messages can be sent in a variety of fashions including lighting a lamp on the user's phone or via e-mail.
"Phantom" mailboxes that are not associated with a specific extension may also be created for General or Departmental Mail.
The take away here is that if it allows the caller to leave a message, it's Voicemail.
Auto Attendants are a useful way to allow callers to self-direct themselves to the appropriate person or department without the need for a human operator. Auto Attendants typically allow callers to dial an extension and/or press a single button to be routed to the appropriate department (e.g. "Press One for Sales"). A phone system may be programmed so that inbound calls are answered by the Auto Attendant immediately or after ringing some phones for a period of time (Delay Answer). The term "Auto Attendant" is often used to refer to just a single greeting/menu or to an entire tree of greetings.
IVR stands for "Interactive Voice Response" and is often used interchangeably with "Auto Attendant." Unfortunately, this isn't entirely accurate. Although an IVR system can be set up to function as an Auto Attendant, it will typically have additional advanced features such as Predictive Dialing or Database Integration. If the greeting says something like "please enter your account number so we can access your information," you're dealing with an IVR.