If you think the idea that managing incoming phone calls to your business in a way that is most likely to convert them to sales appointments is self-evident, try an experiment.
That’s what an Illinois contractor recently did when she sat down with her cell phone to mystery-shop area competitors. She phoned eight home improvement companies in Chicago’s western suburbs. Two took her contact information and told her someone would get back to her about setting an appointment; five put her straight through to voicemail; and only one took the time to listen to her problem and arrange for an estimate.
Even in an age of email and rampant texting, the telephone remains the primary means of contact between you and your prospects. And what they hear on the other end of the line during that first call may have the effect of moving them right along to the next contractor on their list. They may have spent hours researching companies, products, and projects, but they will—in the course of the seven seconds it typically takes to form a firm impression—make a decision as to whether or not it’s worth it to pursue contact with your organization.
That phone call is more than just a phone call, it’s a signal. Unless that prospect has spoken with your event marketing staff at a home show or talked with a canvasser on their doorstep, that call is all there is. Obvious, it would seem, but call around in your area and see how many contractors make best use of that initial telephone contact.
Not Calling to Chat
Mostly what will happen is that callers hit an automated phone system. That system typically steps callers through a directory or routes calls to different departments (“For Sales, Press 3”). It’s convenient and efficient in the sense that having someone answer the phone all day takes up a lot of time. But statistics show that having a live body on the phone is well worth it. According to website TheModernFirm.com, “businesses that have their phones answered by a live person completely outperform businesses that use an auto-attendant.” The site goes on to cite various polls and studies, such as an American Express survey in which 67 percent of those polled say they have hung up the phone in frustration when not being able to connect with a live person. Put yourself in the shoes of someone with a leaking roof in a rainstorm. They’re not calling to chat. How much patience will they have with navigating your automated phone system when water’s raining down through the light fixture?
But you can have a live body on the line and still drive callers away in frustration. For one thing, remember that homeowners are calling because they want to see someone. So set the appointment and confirm it later.
Here, say experts on phone etiquette for businesses, are the essentials of politely managing the call:
- Three-ring rule: Don’t grab the phone the instant it rings, and don’t wait for ring number six. "Answering the phone too quickly may catch the caller off guard," says Reference.com, “and waiting too long may make the caller upset.” Answer on the second or third ring.
- Stick with the script: Professional etiquette demands that whoever answers the phone should identify themselves as well as the company. “Answer with a scripted greeting for professionalism and consistency,” writes a blogger on marketing website ECA. (An experience with a gum-smacking receptionist prompted the blog post.) You can put together a quick, professional two-to-three sentence script and have everyone in the office who may pick up the phone commit it to memory.
- Be an ambassador: Speak clearly in “a pleasant, congenial and friendly tone," advises website CustomerServiceManager.com. In addition, the website strongly suggests that receptionists answering the phone do not argue, interrupt the caller, or talk while eating—especially the latter.
- Let prospects end the call: A rule of thumb for answering a customer inquiry over the phone is that you don’t want to leave your prospect hearing a dial tone.
About 10 years ago, a Texas siding and window company owner engaged a marketing firm to tape all incoming phone calls to his offices. Shortly after the system went in, he began playing the taped calls … and almost steered his car off the road. Asked what kind of siding the company installed, the receptionist told one caller that she wasn’t really sure but could ask. She was similarly unable to provide any information about the window line the company carried.
Such cluelessness, when prospects clearly expect much more, will soon send homeowners on to the next number and company on their contractor list. And since that initial phone conversation is so pivotal when it comes to whether or not someone becomes a customer, shouldn’t you be aware of what goes on when customers call?
Many companies now use call recordings, as you may have noticed in your dealings as a consumer. For one thing, it's perfectly legal to record those calls. The legal rule of thumb is that recording phone calls is permissible as long as at least one of the parties consents to it. (It’s also smart to advise callers that they are being recorded.)
These days it’s easy and inexpensive to record incoming calls, even for small businesses. “The costs of recording your calls have gone down dramatically,” notes a blogger on call service website ConnectMeVoice.com.
Calls typically go directly to a server that instantly contacts your phone system and connects. Recorded calls are stored in the cloud and can be accessed by any online device, including the smartphone in your pocket. “If your company frequently receives calls from customers and you don’t record at least a portion of them,” writes Yury Kolerov at MightyCall.com, one of many firms providing call recording services, “you could be missing out on easy ways to improve efficiency, enhance the customer experience, and—most importantly—drive revenues.”