Virtual phone system benefits header

“Press one for sales, two for customer support, and three for all other queries.” Or even: “please clearly speak the name of the department you wish to speak to after the tone.”

We’ve all heard these messages when calling a company, right?

For all types of businesses they’re a crucial part of directing callers to the people most able to help them. And when you dig down into the how of this call routing you’ll find the branches of a phone tree. Okay, we know you’d normally find roots if you start digging, but you get what we mean.

Phone trees—otherwise known as interactive voice response (IVR) systems—help incoming callers interact with contact centers or call centers via automated greetings that route calls to available agents. This communication template is ideal for directing callers to relevant information efficiently (with minimal human intervention on your end).

So, how can you build a good phone tree that gets people what they need, without being overly complicated?

Well, you’ve come to the perfect place to find out.

We’ll look at the difference between traditional and automated phone tree systems, some typical call tree use cases, and some best practices you can employ when creating your own phone tree in the workplace.

So, let's start creating a better customer experience with a phone tree.

How to set up a phone tree on your phone system

Setting up your phone tree is generally a pretty straightforward and intuitive process, and you should be able to easily customize your call routing and forwarding preferences.

So, if you’re interested in setting up your own phone tree, then here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to do it. We’ll use Dialpad’s business phone system as an example.

1. Sign up for a phone service provider and get your unique office Main Line number

First thing’s first, you’ll need to create and manage a Main Line. With Dialpad, companies are provided with Main Line phone numbers. This is your business’ go-to telephone number for incoming callers.

You can then assign particular operators, phones, reception desks, business hours, hold music, voice intelligence, and many additional features to your Main Line:

main line setup in dialpad

2. Add team members as operators within each department

Next, you’ll need to create and manage individual departments and operators within your call tree. These are the departments that’ll be offered to your incoming callers and the operators who’ll serve them.

Departments route callers to specific groups of people or teams—for example, technical or customer support. With Dialpad, you’ll be able to name personalized departments and add local, toll-free, and fax numbers.

3. Set up call routing rules according to your business opening hours

Once your phone tree is organized into departments, it’s time to set specific call routing rules. These call routing rules are essentially the branches of your phone tree, or how your callers will get routed to different people and teams.

With Dialpad, it’s very straightforward. Just set your business hours and personalized instructions for times when your department is open and closed:

setting up call routing in dialpad

(Plus you can create an automated response to route customers through the department and even change the default voicemail greeting to a customized greeting for your business.)

Okay. Ready to get started with the templates?

5 phone tree templates for different use cases

As you might imagine, the type of phone tree template you’ll need depends entirely on what you’re planning to use it for. Phone trees vary from the super simple, to the mega complicated.

Below, we’ve outlined five common phone tree templates and their uses to offer some inspiration. Realistically, there’s a phone tree for almost any situation.

And if you can’t find the perfect free phone tree template online, there’s nothing stopping you from making your own personalized phone tree framework. (You can start with a printable phone tree template as a free download or Google one of the many online tools out there.)

In the meantime, here are five phone tree templates to get you started.

1. Standard phone tree template

This is your all-purpose phone tree. It’s simple, but effective. This template will suit pretty much any basic business phone setup and can be enhanced to meet your unique needs.

How it might look:

standard phone tree template example

2. Intermediate phone tree template

An intermediate phone tree template is a more souped up version of the standard alternative. This template is well suited for a mid-range business phone setup of up to 25ish participants.

How it might look:

intermediate phone tree template example

3. Complex phone tree template

If you want to fit around 30 participants in your phone tree, then you’ll need a slightly more complex phone tree with more branches.

How it might look:

complex phone tree template example

4. Emergency phone tree template

During major incidents, it’s essential that your customers or clients can contact you quickly and efficiently. And an emergency phone tree is specifically designed for use during times of incident management. It’ll make it easier for you to notify a large number of people about any changes, closures, or safety measures.

How it might look:

emergency phone tree template example

5. Sales phone tree template

For those of us who use our phone systems to make sales, this type of phone tree is ideal. But wait, you ask. If you’re in sales, wouldn’t you be the one calling prospects—instead of them calling you?

Yes, in most cases that’s true! But think of businesses that sell services or do appointment bookings over the phone. In these cases, you might want to direct callers to a menu so that they can be forwarded to the best person to make an order or book an appointment.

How it might look:

sales phone tree template example

4 phone tree template best practices

So you’ve decided to make your own business phone tree. Great choice!

Before looking up the best phone tree template to use, take a look through these phone tree best practices.

1. Map your tree

First thing’s first, you’re going to want to plan and map your tree. Before setting up your voice menu, make sure you know who, what, and where. Who is going to be taking calls? What options are going on the voice menu? And where are calls being routed?

setting holiday hours for call routing in dialpad

2. Align with the relevant team members

Next, make sure your employees are sorted into their relevant departments. This is especially important for larger teams with more complex communication trees.

If you’re working at a smaller business or startup, align your employees with specific departments or roles at this point before trying to deploy a virtual assistant or auto-attendant. It’s easier to make adjustments now than later.

3. Communicate schedule conflicts

Remember, planning your phone tree isn’t just about directing calls to the right people. It’s also about directing calls to the right people at the right time.

Make sure that you’re not routing callers to people or departments when they’re off the clock or busy.

A good rule of thumb to remember: your phone tree takes working hours, holidays, and individual schedules into account!

4. Keep it short and sweet

Last, but not least, make sure your incoming phone tree and call routing system is succinct. Short, sweet, and to the point, as they say.

Your customers probably won’t want to stay on the line for 10 minutes just to listen to all your options.

Aim to keep your voice menu clear and concise. Avoid offering too many options, since this will only confuse callers and cause delays when they inevitably find themselves routed to the wrong person...

Frequently asked questions about phone tree templates

What is a phone tree, exactly?

The phone tree system is a highly effective organizational tool for businesses both big and small. In fact, any organization with more than two or three employees can benefit from using a phone tree system.

The busier your team, the more important it is to have a phone tree that provides a direct line to the most important people in your business (or the people with the most specialized skills).

How it works:

Basically, a phone tree is an organizational chart that works as a hierarchical communication framework—specifically, for phone calls.

And it’s from this branching-out pattern that the phone tree gets its name. ‘(“Branching,” get it?)

👉 TL; DR - A phone tree is an incoming call routing system powered by interactive voice response (IVR) technology. When people call into a business, they’ll interact with your IVR menu, which directs them to the right department or person at that business.

Phone trees are a great way for businesses to use call routing to reduce the amount of time their employees spend answering basic questions on the phone.

With Dialpad's IVR feature, for instance, it’s simple for businesses to route incoming calls instantly with an IVR system that’s always ready to attend to customers until the first person becomes available.

In fact, for simple questions, the IVR itself may be enough to resolve a call without a live agent ever needing to get involved. (“For store hours, press 1” might be a good IVR menu option if you find that lots of people are calling you to ask about your store hours.)

This frees up your team to spend their time on more complex or technical questions.

👉 Dialpad tip: With a phone system like Dialpad, your call center can stay open 24/7. And you won’t need agents on duty at all hours of the day and night either. With an IVR system, callers can interact with your business anytime and get the answers they need (to some degree, at least). And that’s a major plus for customer satisfaction.


What's the difference between traditional and automated phone trees?

Like with more and more business processes these days, the phone tree is now automatable.

Instead of making a person on your team route calls manually (like Pam from The Office), a phone tree system can be easily integrated into your business phone software.

But what’s the difference between a traditional phone tree and an automated phone tree? And is one better than the other?

Well, the traditional manual phone tree is a very simple system. Most organizations would have a free printable Microsoft Word template or digital file that lists the call routing options and departmental contact numbers.

👉 Dialpad tip: If you’re using a traditional phone tree, we recommend keeping the document available on your company intranet, or as a Word or Google Doc.


When a customer calls in, they’ll speak to your office manager or whoever picks up the phones, who can then manually transfer them to the relevant team or individual depending on what they need.

But thanks to modern automation, phone trees can now be operated with IVR. Move over, paper diagrams and Excel documents!

manual phone call tree vs automated phone call tree
Source: rapidrecall.net/automated-call-tree.html


Automated phone trees are more streamlined than their manual counterparts and as a bonus, eliminate the risk of missed calls or messages almost entirely. (Even your office manager needs to take bathroom breaks sometimes.)

👉 Dialpad tip: You can set up a phone tree on Dialpad in literally a few clicks. Learn more about Dialpad’s business phone system that’s so easy to use, you don’t even need IT help to change your phone tree.


Should small businesses use phone tree templates?

The short answer: yes.

Absolutely, in fact.

Most small businesses would definitely benefit from using a phone tree diagram template to help lighten the load on the phones.

In fact, this kind of call routing is often even more valuable for small businesses.

For small teams that are strapped for time and that don’t want to spend all day answering basic questions on the phone, setting up a cloud communications infrastructure with an automated call routing system is pretty much crucial.

And automated phone trees are beneficial for small businesses across all industries too. From real estate to finance to mom-and-pop retail stores, routing inbound calls via phone trees is a simple way to make your customers and clients feel attended to while providing them with reliable service.

Most small businesses don’t have the luxury of an IT teams to help set up and change phone trees. With Dialpad, that’s not a problem. Anyone can set up call routing with phone trees in literally seconds:

Just go to your call routing options in your Dialpad app. From there, you can choose to route incoming calls to other team members, live operators, departments, or your very own virtual receptionist:

other routing options in dialpad contact center

That’s it! Now you can save time and create better customer experiences. All thanks to an IVR and some smart call routing.

Start building your phone tree template!

The telephone tree template has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

Today, automated phone trees are a simple, but super effective tool for businesses—and helps small teams in particular punch above their weight.

Ready to set up automated phone trees using a comprehensive and scalable cloud-based business phone system?

Start building a phone tree to help your callers serve themselves!

Try Dialpad for free