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When a Customer Calls

by Mia Jackson

Well, as unsexy and low-tech as it sounds, the telephone is really powerful.”  Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

Who's answering?

In a recent HBR Blog post by Bill Taylor, he asked basically if that lifeless  “Press 3” voice on the other end of the phone line at your bank, store or insurance company was driving you crazy. (That’s if they even have a number for you to call.)  Taylor, the cofounder of Fast Company magazine, asked if the money saved on the front end of the automated customer service function was worth losing great customers. As small business owners or working professionals, we know how critical it is to get an issue handled quickly and accurately. The maze of phone prompts can leave customers frustrated, confused and packing up their toys to go play elsewhere. But the big companies aren’t the only ones with the issue. Do we do the same thing?

“Let it go to voicemail.”

There may be only two prompts on your PDA’s voicemail system, but when used too often, they can cause the same frustrated feeling for your clients. For example, I work with a great graphic designer but she will never answer her phone. She prefers to wait to respond to email or some other non-human interaction. While I love her work, when it’s time to move quickly on a project, she’s last on the list to call. Talking through creative issues is critical and nuance can’t always be communicated via email.

  1. Set open chat hours. Let’s face it, most of the small business owners can’t sit by the phone.  But you can schedule “office hours” by phone, skype or chat. Giving your clients set hours during which they know they can reach you is a great alternative.
  2. Call them first. If there’s an upcoming deadline or task for a client, reach out to them first. Ask ahead if there are any schedule conflicts or other concerns before the due date.
  3. Set a call timer. Go ahead and answer, but use that timer function on your laptop or cell if the call isn’t critical. After you’ve moved from business to the dog or weather, it’s okay to move on. But don’t forget, knowing those important-to-them details about your clients is great for customer relations.

Use that “ignore” button carefully on your phone. Think about it, they named it such to convey it’s true purpose. Is that how you want your customer or client to feel – ignored? I say no. So when a customer calls, pick it up.

HBR Article: “Press ‘3’ if Automation is Making You Crazy”

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4 comments on “When a Customer Calls

  1. Gina Paige
    11/30/2010

    Interesting perspective. I agree that the voice prompts have gotten out of control. I usually just press “0” to avoid all of that. Luckily, I only have that experience with large businesses. I haven’t had a problem with smaller ones.

  2. I like the idea of having office hours. I haven’t done that yet though, simply because most of my clients prefer email. If they preferred phone, I’d have a different strategy altogether. For my members, I have a monthly time when I set up a bridge for them to call me to ask any questions or have any discussions they wish. That’s a lot of fun and makes me accessible to them in between one-on-one consultations, or for people who don’t want one-on-one. Thanks for these reminders.

  3. Tanya Devereaux
    11/30/2010

    These are useful suggestions especially the call timer. Sometimes we have no clue how long a converations actually is until its too late.

  4. Iesha Holmes
    11/30/2010

    This article reminded me of how awful AT&T automated cs is. And they don’t make it easy for you to skip the prompts and go straight to a human being. On the otherhand, some companies human interaction is so terrible, I’d rather talk to a recorded message.

    I don’t think auto cs is necessary for most small businesses. Set-up chat time like the article said because when I call a small business and they never answer the phone, I assume they don’t want to be bothered and I take my business elsewhere.

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