In a disaster or an emergency, delivering the right message to the right person at the right time is fundamental to keeping everyone safe. However, many organizations still use the traditional phone tree for delivering urgent information.

Unfortunately, this method is slow and cumbersome.


What Is a Phone Tree?

The concept of a phone tree is simple: Cascade information through multiple people or channels. With a manual call tree, organizations must rely on individuals to share the message with speed and accuracy.

The concept is simple, but manual execution is not. That’s because information starts with a single person and is transmitted through several layers of calling. One person calls three or four people, who in turn each call another three or four people – until the message reaches the lowest layers.

This approach isn’t always very reliable because gaps are bound to appear. For instance, if a phone isn’t answered, the original caller must finish reaching out to those on their own list and then take responsibility for connecting with the people on the missed person’s list. What if that second person didn’t answer the call? The caller would have to spend more time doing the job of that recipient too – and delays would begin to compound.

A more realistic view of the manual phone tree looks like this:


Why Call Trees Are Prone to Inaccuracy

Accuracy is another disadvantage of the manual phone tree. Word-of-mouth is perhaps the oldest way information is transferred between humans. But when news is verbally shared, it often becomes less accurate.

A quick play of the children’s game “Telephone” or “Whispers” illustrates the point. Here’s how it works: Players sit in a circle. The first player whispers a secret message in the ear of the person next to them. The second player takes in the message and whispers it to the person on the other side. And so it goes, around the circle, until the last person reveals the message.

The result?

Some players fail to share or remember some of the details, so key facts are lost. Sometimes, the message is completely incorrect because listeners mishear whispers or players accidentally change words.

Almost without fail, the final message is completely unrecognizable to the one that started 
the circle.


Why Manual Phone Trees Are Slow and Inefficient

When every minute counts, a manual phone tree is a highly inefficient way to alert people to news they need to know immediately. Consider, for example, how long it might take for a message to cascade from a single person through three layers of contacts to reach everyone in a group of 65. Even if each phone call lasted just three minutes – from dial through hang up – it would take up to three and a half hours for the last 24 people to get the message.

Can you afford to wait that long? In some situations, a call tree might suffice. But when a threat is emerging, speed is a necessity. A manual phone tree, because of its cascading nature, will always take more time than you can spare in an emergency. Relying on a method based on sequential dialing is both slow and inefficient.

Even in today’s modern world, manually sharing messages via another channel is risky. Missed calls, unread emails and overlooked social posts can delay information reaching the people who need it most.


When the Medium Is the Message

Here’s another issue. The game of telephone was difficult to win when everyone agreed on a single medium. But today, thanks to the internet, people have the ability to communicate in more ways than ever: phone, web, text message, social media – and everyone has a preference of how they like most to receive news and information.

In other words, the medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan’s famous observation that both content and medium are intertwined – takes on a whole new meaning in today’s modern way of living.

For this reason, your phone tree system must support multiple channels, devices and formats. If you fail to send to people’s preferred medium, they’re more likely to miss or ignore your message – even if it’s urgent and critical.


The Advantages of Automated Phone Trees

Most organizations can’t wait three and a half minutes, much less three and a half hours, for information to reach people in the path of a disaster.

Fortunately, both technology and human behavior has evolved over the last two decades. The widespread adoption of the smartphone means people have constant and instant access to voice calls, SMS text messages, web chat, social media and email.

At the same time, automated phone tree applications like OnSolve® One Call Now® removes the responsibility of individuals and reliably distributes messages quickly to any group size. The application delivers the message in the methods your contacts prefer like SMS text, phone call and email.


What Is an Automated Phone Tree?

An automated phone tree eliminates the delays and inaccuracies of a manual phone tree. Rather than rely on people to deliver the message, an automated phone tree system allows you to send one message to all recipients through multiple channels and to any device.

A key advantage is that your messages are sure to be received and – most importantly – read. Call tree software makes it easy to upload recipient details, including multiple ways to contact them, and set up message templates for a range of critical events. If severe weather threatens or there’s a change in event details, you can easily tweak the message copy and hit send. Messages are delivered in minutes – not hours.


What If You Don’t Want Everyone to Get the Message?

A manual call tree is difficult to manipulate in the moment. For it to work, it must be simple – but that requirement also means the message goes out to all, even if it has no relevance to many recipients.

Using an automated phone tree system like One Call Now, you can create an unlimited number of contact subgroups and easily select only the ones that need the message. Additional filter fields allow users to dynamically create groups like everyone that lives on a given street or everyone in a city.


3 Easy Steps for Using an Automated Phone Tree

How do you create and send messages with an automated phone tree system? There are just three simple steps:

1. Create your alert by selecting your recipients and customizing the appropriate template. Automated call tree software allows you to choose only those who need to receive the alert – for instance, those within a specific zip code who are in the path of a storm. Update your message template with the details of the action you want them to take – such as evacuating.

2. Send the message. Choose the desired delivery channel(s) and send the alert immediately if it’s urgent or schedule it for a later time.

3. Monitor who receives and opens the message. With real-time reporting, you’ll know right away who missed the alert. This is vital knowledge in an emergency.


7 Essential Capabilities to Look for in an Automated Phone Tree Solution

1. Customization. Every event is unique. You may need to activate your phone tree for routine communications, like reminders about planned events, or to communicate an urgent threat. The ability to customize messages for specific events and devices is a must-have feature. In addition, choose a plan that includes unlimited calls, texts, push notifications and emails for one annual price with no per-call or long-distance charges.

2. Speed. Look for a system that allows you to pre-record messages and save them in an audio library. This feature is ideal for both standard and recurring events, but is vital in emergencies.

3. Relevancy. Target only the people you need to reach by creating contact groups. Your vendor should offer the ability to create an unlimited number of subgroups, allowing you to deliver messages to specific office locations, floors, volunteer groups and more. With additional filters, you should also be able to dynamically create groups.

4. Reliability. Be confident you’re reaching the right people with the right message. Choose automated phone tree software that allows you to upload contacts from CSV or spreadsheet files or by exporting or integrating with an existing database program such as Salesforce or Outlook.

5. Immediacy. To respond in real-time, you must understand exactly who received your message and who didn’t. The right automated call tree software will provide continuous status updates as soon as your message is sent, allow you to manage erroneous phone numbers faster and provide instant access to polling responses.

6. Conversational. Don’t like the sound of your own voice? A text-to-speech feature converts typed text to an audio file and delivers your message in your choice of natural sounding voices.

7. Mobile. Critical events almost never happen on your schedule. A phone tree app allows you to activate your phone tree even if you’re not in the office. You can trigger alerts while on the road, at the grocery store or at home.


An Automated Phone Tree Connects a Church with Congregants

What kind of difference can an automated phone tree make? First Baptist Church, Baxter, Minnesota, vastly improved their ability to get messages to congregants and the larger community by entirely replacing their past phone tree system with OnSolve One Call Now.

“I would call one member of our church, who would call another, who would call three others,” Assistant Pastor Wayne Erickson says. “People weren’t home to do the calling, and then the other three who were supposed to be called, didn’t get called — and then you were missing half of the tree.” It took at least 8 to 10 hours and sometimes up to two days for everyone to get a message.

One Call Now has replaced the church’s phone tree system in its entirety. Besides saving time and headaches, the organization even uses One Call Now to send messages in his own voice and can even schedule calls days before events.

“With One Call Now, I can make calls to everyone at once. It never breaks down and never ties up our phone lines!”
— Wayne Erickson
First Baptist Church

Why It’s Time for Your Phone Tree to Evolve

The world has gone digital, and today people expect real-time updates. Slow or lost messages are frustrating and dangerous to businesses and organizations of all types. Using an automated phone tree service will save you hours of managing contact data and making phone calls and give you confidence your organization is always well-informed.


Think One Call Now’s Automated Call Tree System Might Be for You?

Let us help you find out! Contact us to learn more.