Could this be the most important point of communication in business?
You may have given careful thought to the marketing of your business or organisation. It takes great effort and time thinking though the logo, brand and messaging. You may have designed a customer focused working environment with expensive designer chairs, leafy potted plants, freshly brewed fair-trade coffee and the latest magazines on fingerprint free glass tables. But if you fail to consider this one seeming simple question, you will have missed one of the most important point of communication questions you can ask.
It could be costing your business dearly without you even knowing it.
Could this be the most important point of communication in your business?
The question is this – who is going to answer the phone?
Get this wrong and all of the above effort could be for little benefit.
Recently, I was out walking in the countryside near my home. It was a glorious morning. The sun was just starting to soak through the spongy mist that was hugging the ground. I was feeling grateful for life, (and so was the dog for having a long walk) I wasn’t quite walking whistling a happy tune, but I wasn’t far off!
Suddenly, the dog caught a smell of something interesting and darted sideways across my legs sending me sprawling face forward, hands outstretched full speed on to the gravel surface.
I hit the ground hard. Very hard. I am not exactly a candidate for a career in ballet, more a linebacker or weight lifter. The force of the fall had taken the skin off both of my hands, I had a gash on my nose, slowly dripping blood down my face. My blue Craghoppers were beginning to turn crimson around the knees and the breath had been knocked out of my chest and replaced with a severe pain.
I was on my own, a couples of miles from home and frankly in a mess.
Men Hate Doctors – Fact
Limping home took a while and it was difficult and painful. Carefully cleaning the wounds, my wife insisted that I go to the Accident & Emergency department at the local hospital. Like most men, I hate going to the doctors, so I took a few pain killers and rested, getting sympathy and tea brought to me on the sofa.
I should have gone that day.
Ditch The Muzak!
Waking up the next day, the pain in my chest had got significantly worse. And it continued to do so over the next couple of days. I knew then that I needed to call my doctors to get an appointment to get it checked out. When I called the surgery the automated voice system told me that I was number four in the queue and the sugary, sickly, sentimental muzak that played seem to aggravate the pain in my chest even more. Eventually, the receptionist curtly answered the phone with, “Surgery here, is it an emergency?” “Can I have an appointment to see a doctor please?” I asked patiently, no pun intended. “No, all appointments are gone,” and with that she used a speeded up intonation at the end of the sentence that means, “I’m going now, bye.” She sharply informed me I would have to call again another day.
I was not impressed.
Again, very politely, I asked when I could see a doctor. She replied, “certainly not today,” still with a tone that felt like, “are you an idiot or something, I’ve told you, call back!” After a third polite request, she finally relented and said, “if you come at the end of surgery today, maybe if the doctor has enough time, (sigh) he will see you.”
Oblivious To Lost Customers
I did go to the surgery and the doctor could not have provided me better service or care. He listened, questioned and diagnosed as if he had all the time in the world. He made me feel valued, heard and I left with an understanding that I had more than likely cracked a couple of ribs and while painful, would not cause long term damage but unfortunately would take 6 – 8 weeks to heal. His service to me as “customer” was excellent. I would recommend him to anyone. But I am sure that many people were turned away from the practice he was trying to build by the rude, impersonal, and antagonistic tone and attitude of his receptionist.
Too Many Lost Clients
How many clients has she lost him? How many people are now giving fees to another doctor because she upset them? All that effort to create the right environment for care was stymied at the first point of contact and I would imagine the doctor was totally unaware. What about your business or organisation? When was the last time you telephoned your business number or organisation and listened with the ears of a prospective customer? How does it sound? Does the person answering the phone sound as if they are excited you called? Or, does it sound like the quicker they can get you off the phone, the better, because you interrupted their day and they want to go back to checking their Facebook page or chatting with their friends on Skype?
Six Ways To Success
Here are six ways you can make sure that this first and critical point of communication with your business or organisation creates the right tone, welcome and response.
- Cast a vision to the person who answers the phone how important their role is in the organisation. Most staff will think or even say, “I’m only the receptionist.” No! You are the CWO – Chief Welcome Officer. You have THE most important job because you will often be the first point of contact anybody has with the organisation or business. This is one the most important touch points of communication. Cast that vision of value and importance regularly and genuinely.
- Have a set script that you expect your staff to learn and use 100% of the time. “Good morning/afternoon, thank you for calling XXX my name is XXX how can I help you?” Could be a simple opening statement that sets the conversation off on the right path. Then think through each possible question/answer so that you can get a consistency and more importantly a process that will leave callers feeling valued. Then train, coach and rehearse.
- Teach your staff to smile down the phone. Yes, this may sound a little crazy but it really does make a difference. The sound and tone is all there is to convey everything you want to communicate to the person who is calling your business or organisation, so do everything you can to not leave this vital communication connection to chance.
- Don’t use annoying muzak.
- Check occasionally. Ring your front desk from outside and see how it sounds. (If you do and it sounds good, make sure to tie this to the vision, and recognises good activity)Get someone else to ring your front desk and ask them how they feel after requesting help, brochures or an appointment. Regularly train and coach the staff who answer the phone.
- Cast the vision of how important they are to the organisation again. Yes, it’s repeated, because it is so crucial to do!
Are you losing business because the person answering the phone does not reflect the values you have built in the business? Are you sure? You will have invested considerable time, say nothing of money to get someone to call you. Don’t leave this vital and critical point of communication for you business to chance. If you do, you could be losing potential customers and you would never even know it.
By Peter Billingham