Do You Actually Answer the Phone?

It has been interesting to watch the evolution of how businesses answer their phones. In the old days, when the phone rang, a live person answred the phone. Over the years, larger businesses had an increased numbers of calls, and the new world of electronics rolled in, so things began to change. When the customer called, rather than talking to a real person, they were greeted with a recording that simply stated “push one for this” and “push two for that.” It was relativey simple (albeit cold) but efficient in terms of routing calls properly. I would assume it also saved money in terms of needing additional employees to answer the phone.

However, what was lost was the human factor. Older people were used to talking with Mary or Elizabeth when they called. Mary would ask how little Johnny was doing since he broke his arm riding his bike. The customer would then ask Mary how her mom was feeling after her operation. In the old days, there was a relationship between the customer and the company in the form of the receptionist or customer service rep. There were real people talking to real people.

But, technology continued to evolve. Instead of calling the company and being asked to push one, two or three, now the customer is greeted with “Please listen to the following message as our numbers ‘may’ have changed.” If that were not bad enough, we now hear “This call may be recorded for training purposes.” which is code for we are recording this to cover our backside in case the company and customer get into a “he said/she said” situation. Oh, and by the way, have you ever finally completed the series of button-pushing only to be told “We are closed, our office hours are this or that. Please call back during normal working hours.” One would think with the current level or supplication the customer could simply receive a message saying, “We really appreciate your business, however we are closed for the day.”

It’s interesting how things are changing. I now actually hear advertisements that focus on how impersonal pushing buttons is, and advertising messages such as, “When you call our company you actually get to talk to a live person.” Wow, what a novel idea!!! Yes, relationships between the company and the customer are important.

I was recently talking to the head of a plumbing franchise, who said they were surveying plumbers in a medium-sized city. They called about 200 plumbing companies and guess what they found out? At least half the companies did not even answer the phone at all. No, I don’t mean they used an answering service, or had a recording. I mean NO ONE answered the phone, period. Wow, that is scary!

Let’s review a simple system for answering the phone:

1. Answer the Phone – Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? However, we just found out that at least in one city, it’s not necessarily being done. I realize smaller company owners may not have the staff they would like to have, but if that is the case, at least use a live answering service or have a recorder at your office.

2. Scripting – It doesn’t matter if you have a live person answering the phone or use an answering service. You need to script what you want the receptionist to say. First impressions are important. This is often the first contact a new customer has with your company. Make it a good one. What do you want them to hear?

3. Data Collection and Entry into Your System – You not only need to have a scripted greeting, but you need to know exactly what data to collect. Maybe it’s simply the name and phone number of the customer. Maybe you want to capture their physical address, email address or cell phone number. Part of scripting involves asking for certain information and then entering it into your customer database program. Everyone who calls your office is a potential customer. So enter them into your customer database so you can include them in your marketing program.

4. Consider an “On Hold” System – I would like to strongly encourage you to consider using a professional “on hold” system. There are two reasons for this. Using a professional on-hold system instantly says “professional business” to the customer. You may be a one-man operation working out of your house, but a professional on-hold system at least makes you sound like a professional company. The second reason is marketing. When the customer is on hold, they are listening. Be sure your message is talking about a new product, service or perhaps the benefits of your maintenance agreement program.

Remember, first impressions are important. That person on the other end of your line is the company to the caller. If you are a customer calling a cable company or phone company, you might put up with bad service because you don’t have a choice. However, if the customer is calling a contractor, chances are pretty good the customer will not call back resulting in a possible lost sale or worse yet, creating some bad press if the potential customer talks to their friends.

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