The trick to setting up custom auto-attendants in Exchange

There are several reasons to use this unified messaging capability -- but one little oddity can get in the way

One of the great capabilities of Exchange 2007 and 2010 is UM (unified messaging). I've explained before how to set up an Exchange UM server, but there's more to discuss. For example, Exchange UM provides an auto-attendant, which can be voice-enabled and provide users a hands-free way to connect into their company directory to speak with someone or to check their mail, calendar, contacts, and so forth, as well as deliver custom greetings and announcements.

But you'll likely want to do more than set up the default auto-attendant. Exchange lets you create custom auto-attendants, but there are some tricks to be aware of.

[ J. Peter Bruzzese explains how to set up Exchange unified messaging without going insane. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

First, why even bother with custom auto-attendants? There are several reasons:

  • If a person has a thick accent and/or difficulty speaking, an alternate auto-attendant can provide directory lookup and key mappings through the phone keypad. This is called a DTMF (dual-tone multifrequency) fallback attendant. If a person makes several mistakes when trying to use the voice-enabled auto-attendant, the UM server will switch to the DTMF keypad attendant. In addition, you can provide a separate pilot identifier (the ID for the auto-attendant) so that people can dial the DTMF attendant directly if they prefer.
  • If you have employees or customers who speak a variety of languages, you might want auto-attendants for each language. Note that you need to install the proper language pack on the UM server first.
  • If you have specialty options for various departments or products, you might want to provide departmental auto-attendants that can be contacted directly either through a specific pilot identifier or through key mappings off the main attendant for a dial plan. So if a person presses 1 or says "sales" (or whatever you determine), he or she is immediately switched to the sales auto-attendant and its sales-specific options.

Although I find it more fun to set up auto-attendants than to use them (my advice: keep them very simple), there are several issues on the recording side that you should know to avoid frustration.

It turns out that you can use only .wav files for your announcements and greetings. Yes, Exchange has an option for importing .wma files, but it doesn't work. Worse, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (my client and server setups) do not have recording software that supports the .wav file format; the sound recorder supports only .wma files. Go figure.

After a bit of research, I found some third-party recording tools, including Audacity, GoldWave, and Blaze Media Pro. But it's not that simple. The recommended .wav setting for Exchange UM recordings is a PCM, 16-bit, 8KHz, mono file. But when I used that, the recordings generated by Audacity and GoldWave wouldn't work -- Exchange 2010 rejected the files. The audio files from Blaze MP worked fine, but I didn't like the idea of having to spend $50 to record audio that my Windows 7 PC and Windows server should be able to do natively.

There had to be another way. One recommendation I came across was to open the .wma recordings from Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 in a Windows XP system using its Sound Recorder application, then saving them as .wav files using the recommended settings. Somehow, the XP recorder has the right codec that Exchange UM's speech engine appreciates. This approach works -- if you have an XP system (or VM) laying around.

But I found an easier approach courtesy of Exchange expert and blogger Tim Harrington: Set up the auto-attendant so that you can simply call into it and have it record your greetings and announcements. Harrington's blog gives the specific details, but the basic premise comes from a TechNet article that explains the steps to enable custom prompt recording using the telephone user interface.

Even if you go the XP route for your recordings, being able to call in new greetings over the phone is still worth enabling, as it lets you update and add recordings anywhere, any time -- such as when a blizzard has closed your offices and you want the phone system to inform callers of the fact.

In the end, dealing with this audio recording oddity is not a big deal, and it is far outweighed by the benefits of using custom auto-attendants.

This article, "The trick to setting up custom auto-attendants in Exchange," was originally published at Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.