How is your year starting out? We’re into week 2 of 2023 … would love to hear back from you on what are the challenges you’re facing in your business finances right now.
Relatedly, what are your customer service goals for this year?
One customer relations tool that seems outdated (but is still very relevant): phone calls. Yes, we know there are chatbots and instant messages and many people opt for those avenues first. But, when the templated answers don’t help your customers, they’re sure to dial your company number to get more personalized answers.
Nothing beats a one-to-one interaction with a customer. And that’s what phoning provides.
But what if they’re turned off by the hold time? Or the greeting? Or they’re bounced around to different departments? It’s a surefire way to build frustration.
So, what can you do to improve (and master) the art of customer phone calls? I have thoughts.
Oh, and another quick reminder about how the final estimated tax payment for 2022 is due by Jan. 16th. And the IRS makes it so easy for you with an online payment option.
But if you need to go over anything there, I’m here for you:
Now, onto how you handle your business phone…
Mastering Your Business Phone Answering
“The great advantage it possesses over every other form of electrical apparatus consists in the fact that it requires no skill to operate the instrument.” – Alexander Graham Bell
Call it VoIP, cell, or landline: Despite all the email and texts, using your business phone for voice communication (plain old “calls”) remains one of your company’s customer-service lifelines.
Not to mention that the phone remains a big way to stay in touch with a workforce that might be working outside the company premises – not only for staying in touch with those workers but for making sure they’re representing your company well.
Make sure everyone in your operation knows how to answer the business phone to your best advantage.
Social media is gaining ground as the preferred customer communication method with a company (especially young-adult customers), but the phone remains popular for customer service among all ages – especially after those customers have bought from a company. (Companies also lose billions annually because of crummy customer service, studies have found.)
The business phone remains a tool for brand image: A phone number on a website or other marketing material generally still conveys more trustworthiness than an army of chatbots even if customers elect to use the bot or email or instant message to reach your company over calling.
And phones still offer a quicker route to make a call personal for a customer. Who knows who’s really on the other end of an IM or an email?
Have a designated number for your company, by the way. Established customers can use your home landline (if you wish – and if you still have a landline) or your personal cell. New customers and most callers to your company in general, though, should have one number to reach your receptionist or your voice tree/voicemail.
Plenty of apps will add a designated business line to your cell phone. You can get a toll-free or a vanity number (where the numerals in your number spell out words relative to your business) for a nominal cost – but with today’s speed-dialing and contacts functions, that may not be worth the money.
‘Can I put you on hold?’
Shoot to pick up all calls on your business phone in two rings.
It’s not always possible, but many more rings, and you risk starting a conversation with a prospect or customer who’s already out of patience. Have all staffers back up the phones if needed. By about four rings at most, rig your system to bounce to voice tree/voicemail.
The first words your staff utters will likely set the whole tone for the conversation. Go clear and professional to start: Whoever in your company answers should say “good morning” or “good afternoon,” thank the caller for phoning, give their name and ask why they’re calling.
Bear in mind that someone on a speaker phone (including your staff) often sounds like they’re inside a gymnasium. If they’re fielding business calls at home, tell them to keep to a minimum playing kids, banging screen doors, barking dogs, and other distracting household noise.
And is it any surprise that text and other communication methods gain ground on Mr. Bell’s invention when customers expect to be on hold for at least five minutes when they call? Hold’s unavoidable of course – but keep it brief and explain why it’s needed. Ask for the caller’s number so you can ring them back if there’s a disconnect (there probably won’t be – but it shows you care and want to talk to them). Tell them why you have to put them on hold and estimate how long they’ll be there.
And, if you think you’ll lose track of just how long the customer is on hold… use a timer so you don’t forget.
The caller’s using your business phone because they want to talk to a person and not the tap of a keyboard. Your company’s first job here is to listen neutrally to their problem. Use small talk and pleasantries but keep them brief. Hear the caller’s issue before you start talking.
Ask questions. Take notes – this will help in a sec. Explain your first thoughts on what it’ll take to solve the problem; even short-term action will impress the caller if it’s quick enough.
Always ask a caller if it’s okay before you transfer them. You’re within your rights to ask if you can call them back later with a progress report. Do so, even if there is no progress, by the next business day.
Wrap up the call – those notes will come in handy here – and always thank them for calling.
Only if your staffer feels there’s time should they try such survey-ish questions as, “Were you satisfied with your service today?” or “What could we be doing better?” Surveys are nice – but aren’t we all starting to feel they’re more for the company than for the caller?
Here’s a real clear survey answer: Repeat business, and knowing how to handle a business call, will help you get it.
Have an idea of what tone you want phones answered in. If you don’t have a set tone (or vision) for an incoming call, it’s left up to the mood or personality of whoever’s receiving the call. That can go very poorly if someone’s having a bad day.
Compile some go-to phrases your staff can utilize for tricky situations (a client who’s tired, panicked, upset, etc.) These phrases allow the person answering the call to set the direction of the conversation while maintaining a cheerful attitude.
And this might seem crazy but encourage your phone handlers to smile while on the phone. It translates warmth in tone and word choice.
January is a great time to revamp things in your business. Besides getting a clear financial picture, you’re going to want to take a look at customer relations. Even though we live in a digital age, it still matters that people know how to answer the phone. Take some time this month to think some of the above through (and get your staff trained).
We’re here to help you take care of more than just taxes in your small business.
On your team,
Emelia Mensa, CPA