YOUR CUSTOMERS learn about you in many different ways. Your customers find how to locate you by looking at the Yellow Pages. Your customers reach you by calling you on the telephone. Customers and potential customers typically get their first impression of you as they enter your business by phone.
This is true for all the little jobs, for the middle-size stuff and, most importantly, it is true for the big business you land. Business doesn’t walk in through your front door. It comes in through that teeny-tiny wire attached to your telephone.
Since potential customers get their first impression of your firm by phone, doesn’t it make sense to spend a significant amount of time training the people who will answer that most important link with your customer?
I recently called a small but successful contractor and I knew he would answer the phone unless he was face-to-face with a customer. I knew this because he has decided to carry a high-tech cell phone rather than use any of the alternatives open to him.
When his cell phone rings, he can look at the caller I.D. screen and decide whether he will take the call or roll it over to his answering machine. He doesn’t greet me or any other caller by name. He is armed with that information when he answers the phone but does not clue the caller.
I have had other, similarly equipped contractors answer the phone from the crawl space under a house in, as the saying goes, deep doo-doo. An urban service guy answered from a moving elevator in a high-rise.
It would be wrong for you to jump to the conclusion that I think this is absolutely the best way for you to handle your telephone. If you’re a small, new startup company, it may very well be.
Sharp businessmen know that the manner in which the telephone is answered can be pivotal to the success of the business. Even the most dissatisfied customer can be thrown off track by a warm and fuzzy voice that says all the right things, which should be part of the standard phone-answering script for your company.
The instructions are quite simple. I can assure you, however, that quality control is difficult.
1. The phone must be answered in a warm and friendly, upbeat, melodious tone of voice.
2. The name of the company must be spoken slowly and clearly followed by the name of the person who is answering the phone. There are no exceptions to this unless you are the owner and you are looking at the caller identification screen and know it is a personal call.
3. The first statement, after the name of the person answering, is one of the following:
“How can I help you?” “How can we be of service to you?” Or, “I can help you” (a pleasant declarative statement). If you have a better one, use it, but insist that everyone use the same greeting.
The opening greeting is not subject to the creativity of the person picking up the phone. The manner in which the greeting is delivered must never reflect the kind of day the person answering the phone is having or, as too often happens, project the feeling that the caller is interrupting something that is more important than their call.
The caller has the right to feel that at this moment he or she represents the most important reason for the existence of your business.
Printed reminders on all phones make sense.
“Yeah, whattaya want?” may be perfectly fine as a greeting for an employee’s home phone, but it’s a good reason to tell that same employee he is not permitted to answer the phone in your business under any circumstance. As your business grows, there will be more and more people that you’ll have to tell to not pick up a ringing phone unless they’re willing to do it your way.
One of my favorite examples:
Almost any system for answering the phone can be better than one I encountered during a survey I was doing on water heater Yellow Pages advertising. The voice at the other end of the phone answered with that universal greeting known worldwide: “hell-oh” spoken slowly as two words with a downward negative inflection!
I asked for the business by the name in the Yellow Pages and explained that I thought my water heater was leaking. The voice then responded, “Mikey ain’t here and won’t be back till supper. He can call you then.”
The voice happened to belong to Mikey’s grandmother, who knew absolutely nothing about her grandson’s business.
It is quite possible that Mikey will conclude that Yellow Pages are a waste of money when the problem really was how the phone was being answered.
Perhaps the only thing that’s worse is calling a contractor who uses an automated system where you can’t talk to a human. In one such instance I made my way to the company directory, keyed in the last name of the owner and the computer told me that nobody by that name worked for the company!
We have all experienced those voices at the other end of the line that clearly projected that answering this call was a significant intrusion. Couple this with responses meant to be either glib or funny, and employees can easily create the impression that you do not want whatever business might have otherwise come in on that skinny telephone wire.
Bad phone etiquette wastes advertising effort and opportunity. Don’t let it happen to you.
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Schmitt Consulting Group, Inc.
2141 Schuetz Rd., Suite 201
St. Louis, MO 63146
314/872-9199 FAX 314/872-9399