How Do You Answer Your Phones?

You could be losing thousands of dollars every month because of poor phone answering management.

“Hello, this is INEPT Powersports. For sales, press 1. For service, press 2. To be completely ignored, press 3. To be transferred to reception and be overlooked for as long as possible, press 4. To be put on hold and then hung up on, press 5.”

I am hoping no one reading this uses a robot to answer the phones — at least not as your primary and only method. This was brought to mind the other day as I had been referred to two separate body shops in my area because of a mishap I had with my truck. The first shop I called was the closer of the two. I was told to press 1, 2 or 3 for something or another, or press 4 for reception. I pressed 4 and then was hung up on. I tried again, and the same thing happened, so I gave up.

I called the second body shop and was greeted by a very nice woman who wanted to take very good care of me. She helped me set up an appointment and everything. If you owned the first shop, imagine if I was someone with a huge insurance claim or several people with a whole bunch of claims? Like me, they probably chose to move on from that first shop because of poor phone practices. When I told my adjuster what happened, he said he would cross that shop off his list.

I do realize your dealership most likely has some sort of answering service. Often, you get so busy in the spring and summer that you cannot get to the phones, or all of the lines are engaged during peak hours. We hired a fellow several years ago to do our phone answering service and recordings, and when I told him what I wanted, he was all over it.

What I wanted was for clients to be greeted by a real person when they called who would direct them to the appropriate department. If that department couldn’t pick up right away, the customer would hear info about the shop and special events or sales we were having. What I really desired was entertainment, jokes and trivia about powersports companies we represented. Maybe some interesting facts about our staff or the local riding areas as well as upcoming sales and what cool units were on their way. Anything to keep the customers’ minds from the fact that they were on hold.

Sometimes, the receptionist got swamped, so that’s when the press 1, 2 or 3 came in. If the department desired was also swamped, that’s when “on hold guy” came in. It was also reiterated that if a caller could not wait, he or she could press star, and we would call that person back at that number.

Of course, I always stressed to the staff that they must check for messages every time they had a free second. If you don’t call people back promptly, you might as well have the phone ring in an empty room. For the most part, it works well.

I do know a shop where customers left messages for service, but service never seemed to be able to retrieve them. You could leave a message to call, but none of the service writers would get the messages for some reason or even realize they had messages. They had a lot of upset clients over this. Finally, they realized the message system was phone specific. The actual phone where the messages were recorded on had been moved to another location. They finally figured it out, but they paid for that debacle in lost business for a long time.                           

The bottom line: Phones are very important. We all know that. However, it’s how we manage them that makes the difference. Find a way to have a person whose primary job is to answer the phone, transfer calls and take messages. When that person sees that service is not picking up the transferred call, make sure the client doesn’t feel forgotten. After a minute or two, take a message and send that message to the party involved. Also, make sure those messages are handled.

The idea of dedicating a person to this role might be met with reluctancy from some. I’ve had shop owners tell me they can’t afford someone just to sit there. I don’t believe it, and I will bet those are the folks losing business by improperly managed phones.

Just remember the last time you called a business and couldn’t get a real person on the phone. You could be losing thousands of dollars every month because of poor phone answering management — and you’ll probably never know. If you are the owner of INEPT Powersports, get your act together!

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