Get Out Of Phone Jail

Bill was thrilled. He finally got an automated phone system for his retail and service business. He purchased the system to give his employees more time for their work. It seemed to him that too much of their time was taken up transferring calls to the right person and repeatedly giving out information about the business's hours or location. The automated system would allow his employees to become much more productive.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Not so fast. It was a nightmare. Bill's customers, who were used to speaking to a human, now had to maneuver a cumbersome, confusing and frustrating system. Some of his customers dealt with the new system but silently hated it. Some of them complained. Others just gave up and went elsewhere. The root problem, though, was that Bill lost track of what really mattered. He forgot that his customers were not in the way of his business — they were his business. In his effort to make it easier for his employees, he inadvertently made it more difficult for his customers to do business with him.

In a marketplace with so many choices, it is essential for you to do everything possible to make it easy for your customers to do business with you. Any difficulty or obstacle that hinders or frustrates them may turn them away from you without you ever knowing it, let alone having a chance to make things right. So what can you do to help your customers remain your customers and not drive them to your competitor?


Have your phone number clearly displayed on everything: all printed and electronic media, receipts, your email signature line, on magnets, notepads and anything else your customers may keep. List your phone information in online directories, Yellow Pages, etc.

Another thing that make contacting your company easy is a toll-free number, so customers don't have to pause and consider making a long-distance phone call to contact you. If you use words (such as 1-800-555-POOL) include the numeric equivalent (1800-555-7665).


Don't make your customers search for a method to talk to a living, breathing person. Automated phone systems can be extremely frustrating and make it impossible to get in touch with a human being. Consider reducing the number of prompts in your system. One set of prompts is the limit for most people's patience and goodwill. If you absolutely, positively must have more than one set of prompts, make sure to offer your customers the option of speaking to an operator in the first and subsequent series of prompts.


Make sure employees take ownership of every call. If they can answer questions without transferring the call, they should. If the caller needs to talk to someone else in the company, the person who answered the call should: 1) Tell the customer that they are going to be transferred. 2) Make sure the caller has the correct number in case he or she gets disconnected. An important feature for an automated system is one that allows your employee to stay on the phone with the customer until the transfer is made.

As in any other business situation, the employee should introduce the caller to the person who is receiving the transferred call. The employee should provide a brief recap of the customer's needs and or questions before politely saying good-bye to the customer.


Thirty seconds doesn't sound so bad, does it. Phone time is different than regular time. When you are waiting for someone to help you, 30 seconds can seem like an eternity. If your employees have to place a caller on hold, make sure that they check back every 30 seconds to update the customer and give him or her the option of being called back. Don't ask the customer to call back, instead offer to call him or her back. Calling your customer back is a way of acknowledging that you know their time is important and you appreciate their patience.

If you play music during the onhold time, make sure that it is consistent with the image of your business. A better idea is to play information tapes that tell your customers about your business or give them ideas to improve their life or business.


If customers leave voice-mail messages, they expect to get a call back quickly. Be sure your employees change their voice-mail messages each day. If they need to be out of the office, or if they are unable to return messages that day, their messages should not only indicate that, but should also list the number or extension of a person who could be contacted immediately.

Often we are unaware of just how difficult and frustrating it can be to reach a human at our own business. If you think you have an easy system, try it out yourself. Have friends and family members try it. Ask your employees to give it a try. Have them tell you what the easiest part of their experience was, as well as which parts were frustrating. Then fix the problems immediately. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with you.

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