As a business owner, you surely can’t imagine anything worse than turning trade away. But unless your staff are properly trained in business telephone etiquette, that’s exactly what they may be doing.
Making a good impression when talking to a customer on the phone is one of the most important things your staff can do for your company. Whether you have a shop, office, restaurant or factory, phone calls are immensely important – in fact, they’re business critical.
When customers call, they may be wanting to place an order or, if this is their first contact, they may be wanting to know more about your services or products. If you don’t make a good first impression and create a positive relationship, you may well be throwing business down the drain.
Good telephone etiquette is a great starting point for providing a satisfying customer experience. Make callers feel at home. It’s not that difficult to be pleasant and efficient. Great phone manners make people feel good about doing business with you and your company.
The conversation you have with a customer determines their perception of the company, even though there are many fantastic telephone answering services available, if you want that perception to be positive, here’s how you should handle customer calls within your business.
- Answer quickly
Most people hang up if the phone doesn’t get answered after six or seven rings. If it takes forever for someone to answer the phone, the customer’s first impression is that your company doesn’t care. They may also think that you’re disorganised or understaffed, closed or, worse still, no longer in business! Answer as soon as you can – no-one likes to be kept waiting, especially not on the phone.
If your employees really are too busy to answer the phone, make sure that your voicemail gets customers to the menu easily and that they’re quickly transferred to someone who can help. If you don’t have a receptionist, there should always be someone on hand to answer calls.
- Practice makes perfect
Agree some set phrases your staff can use as a standardised greeting to answer the phone, and write them down if you need to. ‘Good morning, ABC Ltd, how can I help?’ or ‘ABC Ltd, Janet speaking, how can be of service?’ should be perfectly good default options.
If your staff are struggling to follow the procedure, there’s nothing wrong with practising answering the phone on each other. Sometimes, a bit of role-play can go a long way to embedding desirable habits. So does a friendly, helpful and polite tone of voice.
- Know your extension numbers
If you can’t help a customer, make sure you connect them quickly to the right person. In order to connect the caller to the Accounts Department, say something like ‘The Accounts Department should be able to deal with your query. Would you like me to put you through?’ Then make sure someone in Accounts can take the call.
Make sure your staff are trained how to use the telephone system, including putting someone through to an internal extension. Many customers have found themselves cut off as a result of the operator not knowing how to use the telecom system and losing the call in the process. It’s unprofessional and may just have cost you that crucial order.
- Ask before putting a customer on hold
There’s nothing worse than being put on hold without being told, but it’s is a common occurrence. It’s particularly annoying when your call is being answered and then immediately put on hold – it’s rude and unnecessary.
If you must put someone on hold, then do it properly. Answer the phone and thank the person for calling. If they want to speak to someone who’s busy, ask politely if you can put them on hold for a short time or ask if they would prefer to be called back (in which case take their phone number and pass the message on). It’s important to make sure they want to hold on – they may say they’d be happy to leave a message, call back later or email instead.
If a customer decides to hold, how long should you leave them there? The general rule of thumb is no longer than a minute. After that, you need to get back to them, explain that the person they want to speak to is still busy and ask if they’d like to leave a message. Or you could suggest connecting them to someone else in the same department who could help. Being on hold can be really frustrating for a customer, and if you don’t handle it correctly, they may never ever call back.
- Make sure you end a call properly
Whether or not you’ve been able to help solve the customer’s query, it’s vital to end the call in the right way. You should be as warm and polite and as possible and try not to make the customer feel as if you’re in a great hurry to get off the phone.
Ask if there’s anything else you can help them with, and if there isn’t, then thank them for calling and wish them a pleasant day. Use their name when addressing them, as this makes the entire experience more personal, but unless you have their express permission to address them by their first name, use their surname.