After a frustrating week of phone calls with businesses both large and small, I thought it would be appropriate to share a novel idea to improve your customer service. If I had a drum roll at this point, it would make this idea much more dramatic and exciting to offer up. However, let's give it a try without the drum roll. My novel suggestion is "Answer your telephone quickly; in a friendly; courteous; caring way and stop hiding from your clients!"
Since the whole world of business seems to have ended this simple practice, I believe it can be an overwhelming secret weapon in your business arsenal to win new business and keep your current clients happy and loyal. My past week of frustration on the phone is just a continuation of the last five years of frustration I've been facing, in dealing with those who provide products and services to me and my family. It's bad enough when cold-hearted telephone companies and big national banks put you through the torture treatment of trying to get someone to listen to your needs. However, the cold practice of using computer phones has now made its way to accounting offices; law firms and the medical profession - where critical service providers want to hide from your phone calls. Or in the case of answer machines, many service providers don't return your phone calls at all.
I guess most businesses justify using technology to answer their phone calls by thinking everyone else is doing it so why not me? And live workers answering telephones costs a lot more than a computer phone system or an answering machine.......Right? Live workers also want lunch breaks and take sick days and want vacations. Live workers want medical coverage and are moody and probably complain too much. So conventional wisdom forces business owners to cut costs and baggage by eliminating live workers and plug in their replacement into a phone jack and electrical outlet. Sounds like a winning stroke of genius to them and life goes on.
That's exactly why any business owner who wants a competitive edge, should do the exact opposite. As a consumer, I go out of my way to do business with a smaller bank where managers and key associates have their own direct phone number. I also go out of my way to do business with a rather expensive law firm where every lawyer has a direct phone number that they will actually answer if they are at their desk. This is a huge competitive edge in business today. Why hide from your clients, who are the reason for your existence?
It's doubly frustrating for a person like me to deal with companies who hide from me, because as a business owner for twenty years I made it a practice to provide incredible customer service. My former company's existence depended on developing loyal relationships with our clients. It was up to us to make sure that we worked hard every minute of the day to build that loyalty. For starters we had one of the highest compensation plans for our inside sales representatives who took phone orders, as well as our outside sales people reps who serviced clients in the field. Our company was open for business 75 hours a week and we delivered about 90% of the orders we sold. We employed around 100 inside sales representatives with over 1200 years of combined experience in their jobs. Each inside representative answered approximately 15-20 calls per hour - quoting prices; availability; and ultimately printing invoices for completed orders, all with a smile on their face. The smiles came from the bonuses we paid for their sales effectiveness, which resulted from them building a loyal customer following of their own. Our goal was to answer every single call in 3 rings of the phone. Most phones were answered in one or two rings and yes we did spoil our clients in the process. And they LOVED it and rewarded us with the majority of their business.
If this all sounds to you like a novel idea for today's business world, you are right. Most businesses have forgotten that clients will pay a premium to be spoiled and not be subjected to frustrating customer service via computerized voices and touch-tone prompts. Instead of viewing live employees as a liability, make them the strength of your business. Take the time to train employees to spoil your clients and then figure out a way to compensate them to do so. This can be just the knockout punch you need to win over clients from your competitors and then keep them buying forever.
In an impersonal world, it's time to become more personal. Be recognized as a business that REALLY CARES about its clients. If you are using computerized phones or answer machines, rip them out from your wall and hire LIVE people to answer phones and pamper your clients. Don't compete on low price and lousy service. That's not a good plan for sustained success and profit. If you want to make more profit, spoil your clients and they will go out of their way to do business with you. Even if it costs more to do so!