07 Aug 2011

Winning business on the telephone

In 1906 the Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Company advised answering the phone by saying, “Here is Main 297” (or whatever your extension happened to be).

Your caller would then reply, “Here is Main 298.”

This process, the company said, would avoid “much friction and annoyance.” How times have changed.

What has stayed the same, though, is how vital telephone manners are to relationships – especially those between businesses and clients.

Most of us know, for example, how quickly we, as customers, can become annoyed by or lose faith in businesses who fail on the telephone. We also know how polite and responsive telephone experiences can keep us happy and coming back.

To this end, we thought we’d offer a few tips on what to do right when it comes to answering business calls:

1. Make picking up a priority. Even if it means placing people on hold immediately, try to answer by the third or fourth ring.

2. Prioritise customer calls. If – having been routed through reception – a call can’t be answered immediately, make sure you have an excellent voicemail system in place and quickly return calls.

3. Make sure it’s easy for your staff to update their voicemail messages. If they’re going on leave or are on the road, for example, an updated message will set customer expectations on when they’ll get a call back.

4. If it’s appropriate to your business, considering having staff answer externally routed calls by citing their name and department. This helps customers to know they’ve been put through to the right place.

5. Be careful when using speaker-phone with customers. It can create worries with some about privacy and your attentiveness.

Above all, remember that people can and do judge the effectiveness of your business by their experience on the telephone.

What’s your experience of what’s effective and what’s not? Do you have any tips to share?