January 3, 2010

You Just Have to Try Calling Your Own Company

By Paul Bieber

For a while now I have been working on a project calling hundreds of glass shops, fabricators and companies related to the glass industry. It was unbelievable how poor the initial contact was. If I were a customer, I would have skipped to the next yellow pages listing.

Let’s break this down into some basic areas:

Electronic/Automated Answering. This can be very helpful when used right. Here’s what was wrong:

  • Companies that made you listen to a ten or fifteen second commercial before letting you enter your party’s extension. It is OK after you are on hold.
  • Systems that took two or more prompts to get the search function for specific people.
  • Companies that did not allow you to speak to a person if you hit ‘zero’.
  • When you reach the right extension, and there is no answer, there should be two options–leave a message or speak to another specific person.
  • When leaving a message you only get thirty seconds. If that is the case, tell me in advance so I don’t get cut off mid-sentence.
  • Being forced to listen to hard rock while you are on hold. Or opera, or whatever you don’t like.
  • Listening to the weather forecast for San Diego, when you have two feet of snow on the ground in New Hampshire.
  • Announcements done by someone with such a poor speaking voice that the words cannot be understood. It is cute to have your three year old granddaughter do the recorded announcement, but it is really poor business.
  • We are in the glass industry, not writers for Letterman. He doesn’t install curtainwall, we shouldn’t tell jokes while on hold.

What to do? Have a 10-year-old call your company and see if she/he can navigate the system easily. If not, start over.

If your company services a customer base which is not fluent in English, give an option to speak in their language. If you believe in English only, good for you. I will watch you close your doors as your enlightened competition more adequately services the marketplace.

Real Person Answering. The problems here were astounding.

  • Slow Down would be the number one rule. Most of the people who answered the phone spoke so fast, I couldn’t understand them. There is no award for the fastest phone talker…wait a minute…we can make one up, and call it the “phony”.
  • Answer clearly, with diction. If Rita or Ralph Receptionist has a strong regional accent, and takes calls from around the country, you need to supply diction training. Many times I had to ask two or three times if I dialed the correct number.
  • Have your receptionist practice doing two things at once…for instance, talking on the phone and writing down a name. How many times did Ralph Receptionist have to come back and ask my name again, so they could put the call through.
  • Make sure Rita Receptionist knows every person in the company or has an accurate directory. Many times, when I asked for a specific person, Rita had to yell to someone else, asking if and where my contact worked. Rita should be bright enough to figure out, if I ask for Mollie Pooch, that it could be Polly Pooch.
  • Have Rita tell the caller she is transferring the call or putting the caller on hold. There were many receptionists who put me in queue for the person with no announcement. I didn’t know if I was cutoff or waiting for Rita to get back on the phone.
  • Ralph doesn’t need to tell me his life story, but he should project a smile through the phone. When you hire your phone receptionist, look for this quality.
  • In many companies, the person nearest the phone answers. Now it is an interruption of his or her work; this is not how you want to treat customers. Teach all people who answer your phones to treat every call like it is a potential new customer.

And now for you. Let’s think about the person calling you.

  • Answer the phone with your name; as in “This is Mike,”, or just “Mike”. By doing this you will save minutes every day. If you answer just, “Hello” the person says “I would like to speak to Mike, is he available?”, and you say, “this is Mike.” Fifteen seconds a call times all of your incoming calls really does ad up.
  • It is great to hear a message saying “This is Mike, and I will be out of the office, today, the fifth of January.” If you start this procedure, please follow through each and every day. Nothing says incompetence more than the above greeting being played on Wednesday the sixth. Also, please leave the name or extension number of who can pinch-hit for you.

For the grand finale–call yourself from an outside phone. See how easy it is to get through. If Rita asks too many questions about the call, or is impolite, this is when you will hear it, not when you stand next to her in the office. If your voice would be recognized, have a friend call, with you listening in. My bet is you won’t believe your ears. Try to get some information about buying a product. Won’t you be peeved when you are told no one is here to help, and Rita doesn’t ask how to get back to you. Or Ralph says you don’t carry the product, and doesn’t make an alternate suggestion.

This is a great learning exercise about your own business. Good luck.