How well do you and your team answer the phone?
You might think, ‘We answer the phone pretty well,’ ‘It gets answered all right,’ ‘I don’t know what else we could do,’ and so on. Chances are, you’ll be surprised.
In fact, you could be shocked at just how much is actually involved in getting it truly right. And how important answering the phone to a certain standard could be for your team, your customers, and your business.
I’m going to explain why it’s so critical and you’ll learn some key ‘performance standards’ that will improve phone answering within your business.
The ‘front line’
If you will, the phone can be likened to the ‘front line’ of battle.
It literally is the front line between you and your customers. It’s often the first place you and your potential customers meet. It’s often the very first contact between your potential customer and your team members. So on the business battlefield, it’s just as important as a real front line.
The way a customer is dealt with from the moment that phone is answered can fundamentally make the difference for the sale.
Further, it’s also the most common means a customer uses to stay in touch with you.
Given that, then, it is imperative that the phone is handled with consummate skill.
Before you think, ‘Well, my junior staff member just hasn’t got the experience to have ‘consummate’ skill,’ rest easy. There is a solution—a system.
A system so that every customer call is handled in the same professional, courteous way each and every time. A system that sets the minimum standard required and agreed to by team members—performance standards.
The system and standards create a ‘sameness,’ a consistency, for your team and your customers.
In fact, these ‘performance standards’ truly set great companies apart from the average, everyday business. To put that another way, great companies, which started out just like yours, have ‘a way of doing it here.’ They’ve taken time and effort to develop something that says, ‘This is how we do it here.’ And by setting those standards for the team to work to and customers to expect, they’ve grown their businesses.
It’s like being part of a great football team. Each team member wears the same colours, and certain standards are expected from the players. All of this forms part of ‘the way we do it here’ for the football team. These standards create a standard of play so that the team wins over and over.
It’s the same for your business. Like in sport, these standards give your customers a level of consistency you just can’t have without a system.
When it comes to phone performance standards, this consistency and highly professional way of answering the phone builds customer confidence in you and your ability to deliver.
And it means that your customers and potential customers feel a level of continuity each and every time they deal with you.
It means, too, that every team member is playing from the ‘same sheet of music,’ everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and customers are continually treated not just identically, but well.
And better yet, it makes you stand out glaringly from your competitors.
Generally, your competitors will be the same as most other businesses out there—they don’t have an actual system for handling phone calls. It’s usually just bad luck if a potential customer catches the least skilled person on the day they call. It’s bad luck if the phone rings off the hook to no avail. It’s bad luck if the person who answers the phone is having a bad day and sounds hostile over the phone. It’s bad luck if they just give the caller the price and let them hang up without gathering the caller’s details. It’s just bad luck if the customer decides not to purchase!
No. The way someone is handled over the phone has absolutely nothing to do with luck, does it?
In reality, it has everything to do with the lack of a system.
Because of this, most businesses simply DO NOT make a good first impression on the phone. This could be costing you thousands and thousands in lost sales.
In fact, it could mean you’re not getting the response you should from the hundreds or thousands of dollars you’ve invested to make that phone ring in the first place! And right now—at this moment—this will be costing you personally, through lost PROFITS.
Think about the standards you have in place to answer the phone right now. What length of time do you allow to answer the phone? What do you say if someone wants to speak with a colleague or ‘the boss’? How do you take messages? Do you ask if you can help or do you just tell the caller that person is not here and leave it at that? Also think about any standards you might have for answering internal calls. How do you transfer calls? And so on.
Thinking about this, you may find that some team members use their first names only, others use their first name AND last name, whereas others will simply answer the phone by company name or department, for example: ‘Accounts.’
First impressions count
So you’ll agree, the telephone is one of the main means of contact that clients and potential clients have with your business. It’s important, then, that you treat them well, right from the very first conversation.
To get a sense of exactly how important it is, let’s imagine your business receives 20 phone calls a day. That’s 100 to 200 a week, or over 5,000 a year!
And that’s over 5,000 opportunities to create a marvellous and memorable impression
From here on in, it really is important to think of every phone call your company receives as an opportunity—an opportunity to let the caller know they are indeed talking with one of the most terrific companies in your industry.
At the same time, the other vital point is to realise callers never talk with your ‘company’ as such. They talk with people—YOU and your team members. This means that you and every single team member are directly responsible for your corporate image.
And that image is most obvious and critical on the phone. Interestingly, that impression starts BEFORE you even pick up the phone. That’s why these first few performance standards are so important.
Performance Standard #1: SMILE to the point of a GRIN before you pick up your phone.
This standard ensures that you or a team member can’t answer the phone sounding grumpy, or with a tone of voice that suggests, ‘I’d get lots of work done if you people would just stop calling me!’ Or worse yet, sounding exasperated because they’re busy. You really can hear a smile over the phone, and it makes the customers feel welcome, which instantly tells them they made the right choice by calling you over your competitors.
Performance Standard #2: Answer your phone on the second ring.
Most customers find it very annoying when a phone rings and rings and rings. Often, they’ll think they’ve made a mistake and try again, only to have it ring and ring and then be answered by someone who wishes the phone hadn’t interrupted them! This standard shows potential customers you really are eager to talk with them and that you’re ‘on the ball.’
Next, it’s important to actually create a great first impression. Clearly, the actual words you use on the phone are a major part of that first impression. So Performance Standard #3 is to answer the phone in the following way:
Performance Standard #3: “Good [morning/afternoon/evening], [optional location], this is [your first name and your last name]”
The ‘good morning, afternoon, or evening’ is important because it gets the phone call off to a good star, doesn’t it? It is a positive, polite statement (one that is welcoming) that you virtually can’t say without having to try to sound at least a little bit genuine!
Also, think about when you’ve made a phone call. It’s often easy to miss the first few words somebody says, isn’t it? That’s why, we sometimes have to ask, “Is this ABC Company?” just to check we’ve reached the right number. ‘Good morning’ means a person doesn’t miss anything important and gives them a chance to settle!
The phrase “in the meantime, maybe there’s some way I can help?” is absolutely indispensable!
It lets the caller know that you, as a business, are NOT just going to leave them in the lurch, that you really would like to help any way you can even if Sally or John is away or out of the office, for example. Or even if it just means you take a message and promise to “deliver it to them as soon as they get in,” your customers will, more often than not, be appeased.
As you probably know, getting all team members to agree to change can be a difficult thing.
There is more information on this topic, but for now, you have a systematic way to create delightful and memorable impressions over the phone so that you stand out in the marketplace—and so that clients keep on coming back.
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