Servicing Your Customers By Phone
by Joe Bonura
No matter how many people work in your organization, your customer
may only come into contact with only one person -- the person who
answers the phone. If that person is you, you are your company.
If you say the wrong thing or treat that customer with disrespect,
the customer will not only dislike you, but your entire organization.
So how do you keep this from happening?
The First Encounter
I recall arriving for a sales appointment where the receptionist
greeted me coldly and told me to have a seat. While I was waiting,
another man entered the door and asked to see the president of the
company. The receptionist harked, "He's not seeing anyone today.
He doesn't see anyone without an appointment."
The man grimaced and said, "I just moved my company to this
part of town and I was thinking about using your company as my supplier."
The woman's face dropped, "Oh. Let me get the president for
The man replied, "Don't bother. After seeing how you do business,
I'm not interested any more."
On the phone, you may be guilty of assuming why a person is calling.
If you treat every person who calls your office -- suppliers and
solicitors included -- like they are your best customers, you'll
never have this problem. Everyone is a potential customer. Children
grow up. People change jobs. Make every person's contact with your
company a positive one.
Answering the Phone
How do you greet people when they phone your company? My biggest
pet peeve is listening to receptionists who sound like they're competing
for the fastest mouth in the west. Slow down so the caller understands
your words and doesn't feel rushed.
Greet the customer (i.e. Good morning!), say the name of your company,
introduce yourself, and if appropriate ask, "How may I serve
you?" When it's absolutely necessary to put the customer on
hold, ASK if you can put him on hold (i.e. Can you hold, please?)
and WAIT for their answer before you press the button. Never say,
"Hold, please." without waiting for a response. Those
two words are an oxymoron -- saying please will not make up for
the fact that you cut him off.
Directing the Calls
If you're going to answer the phone, you must be knowledgeable
about your company. If you don't know where to go when a question
is asked, a sale could be lost over a confusing trail of voice mail
transfers. When you don't know the answer to your caller's question,
the proper response is, "I don't know the answer to your question.
However, if you'll hold, I'll check with Ron. He'll know the answer."
This sends the message to the caller that you are in control of
the situation. Never say, "I don't know. I'm new here."
Even if you are new, the customer doesn't want to know that. He
just wants the answer.
Ask enough questions to establish the caller's need. Listen carefully
to his answers and take notes. If he has a problem and he doesn't
ask for a particular person, make sure you choose a person who will
be able to help him. Your goal is to make sure the customer is transferred
as little as possible. When you determine where to transfer the
caller, give him the name before you transfer (i.e. Mr. Jackson,
I'm going to transfer you to Jean Green. She'll be able to answer
When the Party's Not Around
What happens when the caller asks for someone who is out or cannot
come to the phone? Never say the party is unavailable or busy. Unavailable
implies you're lying. Busy implies the party is too busy for customers.
Instead, give the caller some control by offering him options. If
Ron is in a meeting, say, "Ron is in a meeting that will last
until 4:00. I can take a message, or perhaps I can help you. I'm
his assistant." If Ron is at lunch and it's late in the afternoon,
there's no need to tell the caller everything. Just say, "Ron
will be out of the office most of the afternoon. May I have him
return your call when he returns?"
When taking messages, always ask the caller to spell his name --
even if it's John Smith. He may spell it Jon Smythe. Request the
phone number and repeat it back. Then ask, "What is the best
time for Joe to reach you?" This helps reduce phone tag.
Is Voice Mail Good for You?
If your company employs four or more people, I would suggest having
a receptionist plus a voice mail system. A larger company must have
a human receptionist. Many callers need initial direction to find
where to go to solve their problem.
If you have under four employees and the luxury of a full-time
receptionist would crunch your budget, use a voice mail system alone.
Do not use an answering machine if at all possible. Answering machines
are not voice mail. Most answering machines have poor sound quality,
are unprofessional and only take short messages. Most phone companies
today offer inexpensive, professional sounding voice mail systems
that include several voice mail boxes. Explore your options.
I called a major department store chain the other day to ask a
simple service question. A voice mail message said all their operators
were busy and the best time to call would be between 2:00 and 5:00
p.m. on Wednesday or Friday. Instead of taking a message, the system
clicked off. I still had a question and I had to wait till it was
convenient for the department store to answer. Thank goodness my
problem was simple. Imagine what happens to customers who call in
when they have a major appliance that malfunctions. They're already
frustrated when they call -- and then they get a message telling
them to wait until Friday.
For a little more money, the department store could add a few more
customer service reps and save their customers some trouble. If
they lose 40 customers a year who each spend an average of $1,000
in their stores, they've lost $40,000. Not to mention the 11 friends
they'll tell about their bad experience. That's 440 more people
negatively touched by their customer service department. It would
have been a lot less expensive to hire the extra help.
Every Contact Counts
Make every contact with your customers a positive one. You've read
this article and you could be a salesperson or a CEO or a receptionist
for all I know. Every person in your organization IS your organization.
Develop service over the phone that makes a positive and lasting
© 1997 Joe Bonura & Associates, Inc.