Your customers’ first impression of your business may be formed over the telephone. What image do you project?
Who answers your phone? Working from home is fine, but have a separate phone line. You don’t want a family member (such as your three-year-old) answering a business call. She may be adorable, but not when I’m trying to place an order. You also don’t want your customer to hear, “MOOOOOMMMMM! PHONE FOR YOU!” Having a separate business line also allows you to ignore business calls outside of normal business hours, if you want to.
When you answer, do you sound perky and cheerful, or like you just rolled out of bed? Even if you did just roll out of bed, make it a habit to sound “up.” Put a mirror next to the telephone and remind yourself to smile. It makes a difference.
Who or what answers when you’re not there? The absolute worst thing is when the phone goes unanswered. We’re in the 21st century. Get yourself an answering machine, answering service or voice mail. I’m always surprised when I call a retail business and don’t even get a recording telling me when they are open. Sometimes, that’s all I need to know.
An answering service can be nice, but if you can’t have a live person answering all the time, have a message on your voice mail that lets callers know when to expect a call back. If you can, give them information about your web site or other ways to get information while they’re waiting for your call.
Of course, a bad answering service is worse than no answering service. If you use a service, call your office now and then to make sure that the phone is being answered, the operator is friendly and helpful, and they are able to answer basic questions about your availability.
Do the same test with your answering machine or voice mail. Is the recording clear and at the proper volume? Do you sound professional? If there is a menu, are the choices clear and easy to follow?
Make sure your outgoing message is to the point and your voice is upbeat. Unless it directly relates to your business, a “cute” message is probably not appropriate.
Some voice mail systems allow multiple mail boxes and announcement boxes. These can be used to give callers information about your hours or location, your web site, how to place an order, upcoming events or other standard information.
If you have calls transferred to your cell phone, be aware of your surroundings when you answer a call. If you are in a place with loud music or other background noise, it might be better to let the caller leave a message and call them back when you are in a quieter place.
Return calls promptly. Callers want to hear from you, the sooner the better. Hey, is that your phone ringing?