Guidelines to writing instructions for your virtual receptionists

Updated 1 day ago by Justin Maxwell

In our experience, proper instructions for our receptionists are the key to amazing phone calls. In order to qualify, schedule, and do intake for your new leads, we need succinct forms that allow our receptionists to do what they do best: provide an amazing experience for your callers. So take another look at your call instructions to ensure they ask specific questions, are conversation ready, and don't contain duplicate questions. Your callers will be happier, our receptionists can represent you better, and you'll get the most out of your Smith.ai service!

The following are four best practices based on our customer service data from 2018:

1. Use closed-ended, bounded questions

The problem: Open-ended questions like “tell us about your problem," or “how can I help you today” result in long-winded stories, more errors, and fewer bookings. (Long, free-form answers are for you, the expert.)

The solution: Use closed or bounded questions. Questions should lead to a yes or no answer or a specific result. Here are some examples of closed vs. open questions:

👍Good

👎Bad

"Hi! How can I help you today? Are you calling about a parking ticket, a DUI, a moving violation, or something else?"

In this example, we set boundaries through options.

"Hi! How can I help you today? [wait for answer]"

"The attorney wants me to get your info to them as quickly as I can, so can you please give me a one-sentence, high-level summary of your issue?"

In this example, we set boundaries through answer length and urgency for their benefit.

"Please tell me a bit about your case."

Review your instructions:

  • Convert any unbounded questions into bounded, deterministic questions.
  • Update your instructions and submit them to us (we can provide suggestions if need be).
  • Ensure all intake forms have been created or modified per these guidelines; don't reuse website forms.

2. Avoid multiple choice questions and lists

The problem: Callers will forget more than three options; they aren’t dim, it’s just brain science (especially if they're distracted). It's also a poor customer experience – they'll feel like they are just being read to, but they called to connect with a real person.

The solution: Limit your multiple-choice questions to three options. Optional: Have a fourth "something else" option for callers who don't fit into your regular options. 

👍Good

👎Bad

"Are you calling about residential disputes, commercial disputes, or something else?"

Then, based on the answer to 1, narrow it down further.

"Is your issue about civil litigation, real estate disputes, property disputes, land use, commercial disputes, trespassing, breach of contract, collections, or misrepresentation?"

Review your instructions:

  • Reduce multiple-choice questions to three options.
  • Convert longer multiple-choice questions into decision trees.
  • Update your instructions and submit them to us.

3. Create instructions for a conversation

The problem: Website DIY intake forms are not designed for conversations. If we use them as instructions, your callers end up feeling frustrated with the robotic nature – or worse they hang up or doesn’t complete the intake process.

The solution: Redesign form questions with a conversation in mind – the caller is talking to a real human, so give some thought to the conversation the receptionist will have. Your caller doesn’t want to feel like they are being read a list of online intake form fields.

Review your instructions:

  • If you have website intake forms, create alternates for receptionist conversations per these guidelines.
  • Update your instructions and submit them to us.

4. Only ask for information once

The problem: Duplicate questions are unnecessary and frustrating. For instance, someone who is already a client or customer may expect that you have their email address already and will resent being asked to spell it out again.

The solution: Design your questions with the customer in mind. And think through the conversation our staff will have with your callers.

Note: duplicate questions in your intake forms will still count towards your overall intake question time and count.

Review your instructions:

  • Review your intake forms and remove redundant questions.
  • Update your instructions or form and submit them to us.
  • We'll try our best to advise you about form revision, but inevitably, it's your responsibility to review your intake process.
Smith.ai offers two forms of intake: Standard (2-3 questions up to an average of 60 seconds, included with your base plan) and Extended (5-6 additional questions up to an average of 120 seconds) for an additional per-call-per-month fee. For more information, see our Reasonable Use Policy.


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