Most Businesses “Blow It” When Answering The Phone (don’t be one of them)

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by Tom Watson on November 5, 2010

I don’t know about you, but once I get working in my office I kinda go into a trace.

I kick out one task after another once I really get myself going. But then the inevitable happens…the phone rings.

Now you would think having the phone ring is a good thing (and it is to be sure). It’s just that once you are in business a while you realize that not every call is a new customer.

Many times it is a telemarketer of some kind (which just sucks the momentum right out the door for me). Unfortunately this results in me viewing the telephone ringing as a bit of an annoyance. It is getting in the way of my “real work” if you know what I mean.

So what do I do when the phone starts ringing? Well…I answer the phone with a bit of a “attitude” you might say. I do this against my better judgment many times (because I know customer calls come in as well).

And this is a problem that many others repeat.

I see (and hear) this problem all the time. Many folks have phone skills that leave much to be desired (me included at times). Maybe they are like me, and are a little jaded about who is really on the other end. Or maybe they just don’t know any better and answer the phone with the enthusiasm of someone who just had to put their dog to sleep. Either way the wrong message gets sent, or a negative impression is made (or both).

You will answer the phone many times during the day, but to have the best chance of landing new jobs you must treat each call with the highest level of care and respect. You only get one chance to make a good impression, and how you handle the phone calls go a long way in determining your fate.  

It’s similar to meeting people in person. When you meet folks for the first time, many times each party sizes up the other by what they wear, and how they keep themselves. This forms the basis for a first impression. Well the phone is no different. How you answer the phone gives away a lot about you and your company and shapes how people view you going forward.

This results in many businesseses missing out on valuable revenue because of the way they answer the phone. During this process they stand to loose thousands of dollars in yearly income (and tens of thousands in future income). To put this in perspective for you, I once attended a seminar about customer service in the carpet cleaning industry (which is similar to the cleaning industry).

The speaker asked everyone in attendance what they thought the dollar amount was of a first time customer calling in an order over the phone. Most responded by saying the customer is worth whatever service they purchased from you (if they had $250.00 worth of work done then they were only worth that $250.00).

This of course is not true because many times a customer will not only use your service more than once (year after year, or maybe twice per year), they may refer you to others as well who will do the same.

So to make a long story short, the instructor scribbled out the math on a blackboard. The math was pretty simple, it just factored the cost of servicing that customer for ten years, getting several referrals from that one customer and factoring in that additional business revenue and coming up with a final tally. Once the true value was placed on a carpet cleaning customer do you know what the actual value came in at?

Over $30,000 was the final number!

The real power is that the numbers were for a carpet cleaning customer (with a average sale of several hundred dollars). Now do the math for a cleaning company whose annual contract is worth several thousand per year, if not tens of thousands in some cases. If you applied the same formula your final number may come in at twenty-five, fifty or one hundred times that amount, maybe even more.

The moral of the story was to answer the phone with all the care and concern you can muster because that call could be the one that ultimately results in you receiving tens of thousands of dollars (maybe even hundreds of thousands). Once you factor in what the customer is worth, what they may refer to you, what that referred customer may refer to you the numbers get outrageous.  

Here are some ideas, tips and suggestions I learned from my seminar. They should help you out so you don’t miss the boat (and the cash) when opportunity knocks.

  • Answer the phone on the second or third ring, never later.
  • Smile as you pick up the phone to answer it, the caller can hear a smile over the phone.
  • Smile some more while giving out our name to the caller (even miserable people respond well to a friendly tone, so keep that smile on while you are talking to a present or potential customer).
  • Create a phone script so each call gets answered exactly the same way.
  • Do not sound like you just lost you best friend (that tells the person on the other end that you are not interested in their call).
  • If a customer gives you his or her name write it down immediately. Then use it frequently during the conversation.
  • Always call the client by their last name unless they invite you to use their first name.
  • Be a good listener and don’t interrupt (don’t pretend to listen, focus on what the customer is saying).
  • Ask the caller how they heard about your company.
  • Don’t keep working on paperwork unrelated to the phone call. All calls deserve your undivided attention.
  • If you must put someone on hold, ask their permission first and try to limit the amount of time on hold (the average business person is on hold 27 hours each year, so keep it brief or you will “lose” them and their money).
  • Always conclude any phone call by sincerely thanking the caller for thinking of your company.
  • If the phone call was from a referral, send the person who referred the caller a thank you note.

Once the call is complete, you can then turn back to the task you were doing and feel good about yourself knowing you didn’t miss out on any new business. The main point of this post is to drive home the fact that how you answer the phone is very important.

Be enthusiastic and smile during the call to get the best results. The people on the other end of the line will notice that skill and it will differentiate you from all the others, who drop the ball when answering the phone.

Tons of business is out there for the taking, make it easier to grab by starting off on good footing with proper phone etiquette.

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