Saturday, April 20, 2013

Don't Lose The Customer On The Phone!

We like to think that things like the quality of our company’s products or service and the fairness of our pricing are the most important factors when it comes to building customer loyalty. To a certain extent, that’s certainly true. But there are several other things we do (or don’t do) in our operations that can sour the customer’s feelings toward us and, all too often, drive them into the welcoming arms of our competitors. Most of those things seem like such small items that we can’t imagine losing a customer over them. But customer relationships can’t be taken for granted because even the smallest molehill can turn into a mountain if we’re not careful.

There are several areas of business operations where mountains are likely to grow. One of the first places to look is your telephone, often one of the first points of entry to your business for your customers. When the customer calls, does it sound like you’re glad they did? Or does the way you answer the phone send the message that their call is an intrusion? If you answer the phone with a supposedly neutral statement like, “Dave’s Guitar Shop,” you’re making the customer work to justify their call to you. If you just add something a little friendlier such as, “Can I help you?” it makes the customer feel wanted. This applies when a real live human answers the phone, of course.

If your customer’s first telephone interaction with your shop is with an automated attendant, some different rules apply. Since most people detest dealing with machines, it’s essential that you make their experience as painless as possible. Here are some guidelines for setting up your automated telephone answering system:

  • Make the welcoming message cheerful and short.
  • Offer an immediate option—like “press zero”—to speak to a real person, then repeat it after the other options.
  • Keep the number of choices to a minimum. If your customer has to wait to hear, “Press twelve for the parts department,” you’ve lost them.
  • Label your choices by functions the unfamiliar new customer will recognize, like “parts,” “machine shop,” and “estimates,” instead of “Charlie,” or “Susie.”
  • Don’t make them press more than one number before they’re connected to a human.

If you absolutely must use a voice mail system, make sure it’s customer friendly, too. Everyone’s greeting should be pleasant and promise a return call as soon as possible. At the end of each message, repeat the option to “press zero” for an operator.

Whether you use a voice mail system or have someone who takes messages, make it an absolute rule that every customer message gets returned that same day—although within an hour is even better. Even if you have to call back to say you can’t talk to them now, make an effort to acknowledge the call.

The degree of customer-friendliness of your telephone system is easy to test. Just take a page from the manual of the retailers who employee “secret shoppers” and call your shop from outside to see what it sounds like. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself if the person that greets you—recorded or live—sounds like he or she is smiling. Listen to the entire greeting and ask yourself if you feel welcome. If you have an automated attendant, press every option at least once to see what happens. If you end up in voice mail purgatory—where you don’t know if the message you’re leaving is for the right person—you know you’ve got a potential problem.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.

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