Telephone blues

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As some of you may remember I think it is very important that the published telephone number of any business is answered in person by a human being. I tried to contact a couple of sole trader business advisers last week and both of them were using answering machines or voice-mail on their land lines. One I later contacted via his mobile (cell) while he was driving.

I don’t speak to my clients on my mobile. I can’t give them proper attention. If you telephone my office I cannot guarantee that you will be able to speak to me. I might be with a client, out at another meeting or working on something and not wanting to be disturbed. What I can guarantee is that if you call in reasonable office hours you will speak to my PA who will take a message very courteously. I also guarantee that I will call you back.

What do you do if you telephone a potential supplier of goods or services and you either get voice-mail or worse still, no reply at all? You probably hang up and the odds are that you will phone someone else. Prospective business lost by the non-answerer.

I was watching with my wife a television programme called The Restaurant Inspector. Fernando Peire who presents the show is a famous restauranteur and from my brief viewing I could see that he was excellent not only at food matters but also at branding and marketing. He was helping a small fish restaurant on the South Coast.

The last task after a successful re-launch was to change business name on the message on the restaurant ‘s telephone answering machine: “We’ll call you when we get back”. I was rather shocked. Imagine you want to book for a Friday or Saturday night and you get that when trying to book. You are going to call another restaurant to make sure you have a table to go to. I would employ a telephone answering company or a PA to take the call; someone who had access to an on-line booking system. The bookings could be filling up while you were still out in the fish market or wine merchant.

In the restaurant business as in my tax and business advice consultancies, if people take the trouble to inquire by telephone they are almost certainly going to buy. Please don’t let them be put off.

The bottom line is, if you don’t want to be seen as unprofessional have a real person answer your phone and take a message or make a booking.

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The Appointed Time

Often small businesses, and especially start-ups, skimp on purchasing really important services. Many less experienced people to think they can do everything for themselves. This can lead to giving a really bad impression and a loss of business, which may be repeat business.

I booked an appointment to have my car repaired. I have a track record of using this business over several years, and have found the service good in terms of delivery. I have just had a poor experience because the owner mixed up my appointment for another date in the future, which I would not have agreed to because my car urgently needed attention.

When I made the appointment the business owner took the call. When we spoke there was music in the background, which is not unusual in a car repair shop. However, I now suspect he was actually driving and made the appointment from memory, which turned out to be faulty when he later incorrectly recorded it in his appointment book.

I ended up being very cross that my car was not to be repaired when I thought it was. It was fortuitous that a business meeting I had organised the day after was cancelled by the client, otherwise I would have had to hire a car for the day.

I use a call answering service / virtual assistant. All telephone calls to my office which I cannot take are answered by a real person who takes a message. Virtual assistants can also make bookings, which is really handy if you run a motor service and repair business or are a physiotherapist, osteopath, or almost any type of small business that sees clients regularly.

A prospect who calls and gets voice-mail or suffers an appointment mix-up could easily and immediately go elsewhere as could an established client if it happens more than once. It is not even as though it costs very much to have someone answer your telephone, and if you factor in the sheer value of never missing a call it costs absolutely nothing. On the contrary it helps a business make more money.

Have you suffered similar frustration?

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Answer the telephone!

Why don’t businesses realise it is so important to answer the telephone or at least have someone answer it for them? This was brought to mind the other night when we tried to place an order for a meal to be delivered. The telephone rang and rang.

It is human nature if you call to enquire about a product or service from someone you have not tried before to hang up rather than talk to a machine. It doesn’t matter if the voice mail message says “your business is really important to us”. If anything it makes it worse because either it seems insulting, implying “but not so important we can take your call”. Unless you have had a really strong recommendation, you are going to move on to enquire of the next business on your list or in the local directory.

If a business is that busy or so small that the person who could take the call is engaged on a vital task, why not engage an answering service? They are relatively inexpensive especially when one considers the extra business that can be won.

That way any enquirer can leave a message with a human being. He or she then will be most likely to wait to be called back rather than go on to the next one on the list. It also helps the business owner in concentrating on a task without interruptions in the knowledge that all messages will be written down or emailed ready to be followed up.

In short, if we answer the telephone we maximize the business that comes to us that way. If we leave our prospects to a recording they will probably give up on us as we did the restaurant who didn’t pick up.

© Jon Stow 2010

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