Cleaning & Restoration Association News

The Silent Kiss of Death

July 12, 2007
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Every day small businesses are suffering a “silent kiss of death” because of one simple thing: The way their telephone is answered.

The way you answer your telephone is incredibly important. At this critical point, your caller will make several immediate assumptions about you and your company. They will make assumptions about the value of your service, whether you know what you are doing and, most important, whether you care or not.

I Didn't Understand a Word You Said

How many times have you called a company and the person answered the phone with a mumble? Then you have to actually confirm that you called the right place. Or how about this one: A short, gruff answer with the company name: “Bob’s.”

If you understand the lifetime value of a client and the importance of first impressions, this is a humongous mistake. The worst of all is the simple “Hello”; I thought I was calling a business.

Obviously not.

Answering your phone with a “Hello” says you are not a real business. If you have your calls forwarded to your cell phone, you can still answer like it is an office phone. Always greet the caller with “Good Morning/Good Afternoon (Your Company Name)” or better “It’s a great day at…”

If your caller has already been greeted by an auto attendant, or you have calls coming in from more than one enterprise, say “Good afternoon, this is (your name).” It should always be positive and enthusiastic. When receiving the call, make sure that there is no distracting background noise such as radios, other employees, office machines, etc. And certainly make sure there aren’t any kids crying or dogs barking.

Institute a Standard Greeting

Try these: “It’s a great day at (Your Company Name), how may I help?” or “Good morning/afternoon (Your Company Name), how may I direct your call?” Use “How can I assist you?” instead of “Can I help you?” when the person answering the phone is actually the one doing the helping, and use “How may I direct?” when the person taking the call will be passing the call over to someone else.

Make sure that the greeting is clear and can be easily understood by the caller. Remember, it may be the first time they have ever called your company, and they could be distracted when they call. Speak slowly and clearly. And above all, be very enthusiastic!

Never, ever, answer the telephone with “Hold please.” If your phones are really busy, answer, “It’s a great day at (Your Company Name), can you hold for just one moment?” Wait for a response. No matter how big your company is, there is never a time when it is OK to just say, “Hold please.” What a turn off!

Transferring the Call

Another costly mistake is “May I ask who is calling?” Long ago, I worked at a travel agency and the manager of this serious business taught me to never say, “May I ask who is calling?” Instead, say, “May I tell him who is calling?” The reason is that “asking” is invasive, and implies that you shouldn’t be calling. “Telling” implies that you are just doing your job to get the message to that person. To transfer the call, ask “May I place you on hold for just a moment while I ring his office?”

Taking a Message

If the person is not in (assuming that someone else can’t take the call), come back to the phone and say, “May I have So-and-So call you back?” Notice that nothing is said about whether he was “in” or not. That’s because that’s another no-no. Don’t say “He’s not in.” The caller is wondering where in the world is this person, and why aren’t they at work where they are supposed to be? And don’t say, “He’s not available.” That’s even worse, because it screams to the caller, “You’re not important enough!”

Instead, if pressed, say, “He’s not in his office, may I have him call you back?” This statement covers you whether he is in or out. It also implies that he is in (therefore at work and not loafing somewhere!). If an approximate time can be given to the caller when to expect a call, that would be best.

And last but certainly not least: always say thank you! It is the customer service representative’s job to say thank you, not the customer’s. It is our pleasure and privilege to serve a caller.

A few years ago, I called a rental car agency. The “customer service” rep was a monotone, just-take-the-information type person. When he was done making the reservation, he said, “Will that be all?” I said “Yep.” I was expecting him to say “Thank you for calling” or something to close the call. But he said nothing.

He asked again, “Will that be all?” I said “Yep.” I could tell this guy had a chip on his shoulder and didn’t want to stoop to such a low position of serving. Silence again. This guy was actually resisting saying thank you! He broke the silence with “Will that be all sir?” I said “Yep.”

Finally, he says “Well thank you for calling.” I said “Thank you!” See how easy that was? I guarantee you that it didn’t hurt him one bit. When the customer says thank you first, you say thank you!

The Final Mistake

We could spend all day on positive phone, but I think you get the picture. Here is a final item that will deplete your power over the phone: when you respond to a customer thank you with “Uh-huh,” you just told them psychologically that you don’t care. “Uh-huh” is a lazy, untrained, ineffective choice that should never be used. If “You’re welcome” is appropriate, spice it up a little. How about this: “You are sooo welcome!” or “You are certainly welcome!”

Put some enthusiasm behind it. There’s a potential lifetime client on the other end, for crying out loud.

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