REVOLUTIONIZE YOUR COMPANY PHONE
by Aaron Beth
There are two aspects of telecommunications that require a thorough understanding if you expect to outlast your competitors: phone technology and phone technique. While the devices you use, whether you answer your phones directly or by answering machine, are technology, how you answer, your voice and method of speaking are technique.
Let’s talk about phone technology first. In today’s current business environment, technology is outpacing itself exponentially. No sooner is a new model available then another, upgraded and offering more widgets, is waiting in the wings. Smartphones are getting smarter. Aside from connecting you to the internet and navigation, they provide access to cloud computing, databases and storage. My entire customer database, (over 20,000 records) is in the palm of my hand. If on a job you’re stuck and need troubleshooting advice, bingo! You connect to YouTube and watch a training video or check schematics on a company server. The technology is waiting for you to embrace it. There’s no getting past it. It can work to your advantage starting right now.
But in addition to the benefits of high-speed processors and time-saving features of today’s phones, great strides are being made in phone answering, such as special voicemail. I’m not talking about voicemail provided by your local carrier, but about independent companies whose only service is to answer and divert your calls. They can be found by a simple internet search, and they provide a plethora of options, not merely call-forwarding, call-transfer and caller ID, but a host of other features as well, such as 24/7 live support, and access from any location, geared to making your life easier and more productive. And all for a nominal fee.
There’s no live person answering your phone. Your greetings and instructions, stored in a database, are activated automatically. Messages are digitized and sent to your cellphone via SMS or email. Your greetings are recorded in your own voice or can be provided by the variety of voice-over talent available for customized messages. Phone technology today allows me to divert incoming calls to my cellphone while the caller is listening to my greeting. Here’s how it works for me: when a call comes in over my business line, the caller hears a greeting identifying my company and listing the services I offer. Options include different departments, such as “Press 1 for the Service Department” or “Press 2 for the Parts Department.” When the caller presses 1 for the service department, the voicemail system calls my cellphone. The caller hears, “Please hold while we connect you to the service department.” I can then talk with the caller. If someone calls looking for parts, a separate message directs them to the parts department, which in turn announces the number of my local parts supplier.
Contrary to what small service businesses have long believed, having several telephone numbers to give an illusion of being large or local, is no longer necessary. You need only one landline. As for me, I have one toll-free and one local number, both landlines, and two cellphones, that’s all. The reason I carry the second cellphone, I will explain later. Basically, I’m answering the call live, but the caller doesn’t know I’m in my car, or out in the field on a job, or in my office. If I happen to be in an area with poor reception, my voicemail system will either call me on the second cellphone used for backup, or it will divert the call to someone I designate in real time, someone who is always by a phone. Oftentimes, I’ll get by with one phone, but the second cellphone from a different carrier is worth its weight in gold. The important point is to make sure your phone is always answered. The gain of one job a week could be enough to pay your phone bill, if not your rent.
As an example, in the 1980’s my service business required four receptionists and six technicians to get the job done. I had more than a dozen phone numbers which were monitored 24/7. After hours and during holidays an answering service resumed the pace. That was a lot of manpower at considerable cost.
Today, however, I use no answering service, I have no receptionists and no employees. I answer the calls myself. This state-of-the-art voicemail technology allows me to monitor every call on the fly, in real time. And while it’s true I handle more responsibility, it keeps my operating costs down which allows me to undercut my competition so I can charge less and make more profit.
Your telephone technique is where you secure the confidence of the caller. Every time you answer a business telephone, your voice and manner of speaking are, in the truest sense, representing who you are. So it’s important, if not absolutely crucial, that you give the very best impression to all those who call. By speaking with clear pronunciation, correct grammar, and a pleasant voice, you will build an image of prestige in the public’s mind. First impressions are priceless and can increase business or drive it away.
Whether you answer your phone directly or use a voicemail system, the importance of speaking etiquette cannot be over-emphasized. Your greeting, your ability to project a friendly and concerned voice, makes all the difference to the caller. The tone and style of your responses can instill a sense of integrity in the mind of the caller or sound harsh, driving the caller away. The phrases you use should be warm and friendly. Customers want to know you’re interested in their problem. They want to know your experience. Don’t think for a moment that callers can’t evaluate the conversation. Be honest and project a voice of confidence.
Telephone technique has simple rules that are easy to learn and must be adhered to if you expect to prosper. Here is a list of a few.
Let’s start with your greeting. Introducing your company and the services you offer are of primary concern. Most companies agree that it is more efficient to say “Hello” and the name of your company or department, followed by “How may I help you?” Be welcoming. Let callers know you want to hear their problem. Give them good advice if they ask for it.
Listen to the Customer. Find out what the problem is by asking basic questions. For example, “How old is your appliance? What is or isn’t working? Would you like to schedule an appointment?” Keep the conversation flowing with your concern for their problem. Here is a list of basic principles.
1. Avoid Interruptions and Side Remarks. It is discourteous to expect one person to wait while you chat with another. Concentrate on the telephone conversation.
2. Explain Delays. If a caller must be kept waiting while you call someone else or answer another line, let them know there will be a delay. Don’t leave them waiting, their time is valuable, too.
3. Make Notes and Use Them. Keep a phone log book and a pen handy at all times. Don’t delay your customers with, “Just a minute, I can’t find a pen.”
It’s fairly easy to keep a pleasant voice when the caller on the other end of the line is courteous, but the handling of an irate or dissatisfied customer can be difficult. If you are confronted with a complaint, I recommend a few ground rules for retaining the customer’s goodwill:
Don’t take the complaint as a personal offense. Keep the tone of your voice sympathetic and reassuring. Make the customer aware of your concern by your manner of speaking and the words you use. Let him or her explain the whole story. Avoid interrupting. Be diplomatic. Retain your composure. An attitude of resentment will only make matters worse. But a relaxed and courteous tone will induce your customer to adopt an agreeable manner.
Your voice is the icing on your cake. The first few words said over the phone can register an attractive personality and add status to your company. Remember to greet every customer cordially. Show that you are pleased to receive the call and want to be of service.
To summarize, here’s the List of Do’s:
*Be prompt in answering the phone.
*Identify both yourself and your company
*Use correct grammar and clear speech
*Sound cheerful and alert
*Show enthusiasm through the tone of your voice
*Observe basic telephone courtesies
*Be prepared to answer questions about your services and charges
*Take accurate messages
*Book appointments for service efficiently
*Answer complaints tactfully
*Overcome price objections
*Write down all necessary information
Here is a List of Don’ts:
*Speak too loudly or too softly
*Ask blunt questions, such as, “Who’s calling?”
*Make side remarks
* Eat while on the phone
*Keep the other person waiting without an explanation
*Bang the receiver
*Refuse to give service
In addition to answering the phone promptly and giving proper identification, there are other rules of good telephone usage. These include:
Display an interested, helpful attitude.
Supply requested information with efficiency.
Say, “I am sorry to keep you waiting,” or “May I ask what this is in reference to?,” or “I’ll check the schedule and call you back.”
It’s amazing how many people do not realize that it is courteous to let the other person know the conversation is finished by saying, “Thank you for calling. Goodbye,” before hanging up.
The job of answering the phone will be made easier if you have the proper equipment with which to work. This means that your phone should be in a convenient location where you can hear it and respond within a few rings. In addition, you should have the following:
A phone call log book
Often used information, such as: daily schedule of calls, invoice records, etc.
Pen or pencil
Frequently called telephone numbers, such as parts suppliers.
A database of all your customer records for easy retrieval.
In conclusion, be prepared for more changes in cellphone technology. Mobile Augmented Reality (MAR) is on the horizon. Access to data will become second nature. No longer will you want for information because it will be at your fingertips. You will have access to customer data and each appliance history in a wink of an eye. It will bring down cost and eliminate waste. It’s exciting just thinking about it, and soon it will be knocking on your door.