Last year I was looking for a company in town to make me some custom shaped business cards, not rectangular, but cut in a certain shape. I search on the net for companies and then I pick up the phone and start calling. I was horrified by the way the first contact with a potential client was handled. I called about 10 companies and on the other end of the line I was greeted with “Hello”, “Yes” or even silence. In a few cases I was answered with the company name and hello and in one case I was answered with the company name, the name of the person on the phone and hello.
I relate below one of the interactions that stuck in my mind and unfortunately it was not the only one that made me understand that terms such as “customer satisfaction”, “quality of customer interaction”, etc. are still quite alien to a part of the local business environment, despite the fact that they are talked about everywhere.
Optimistic by nature, I tell myself that it may just be a cop-out, that maybe I didn’t hear it, so I make sure I’m calling the right place: “Company X?” A young lady replies, “Yes, go ahead,” obviously annoyed that I’m kidnapping them ahead of time and not getting straight to the point. I start to explain what I would be interested in, leaving pauses to confirm that she hears me and understands what I am saying; unfortunately the young lady was not too keen to fill these pauses so I have to ask “Hello, can you hear me?”. “Yes, I’m listening,” she tells me dryly, as music blares loudly in the background (a mix of popular music and manele, not very good for business, I think). I finish explaining and quickly get a “Yes, we do”.
I had already called four firms who had turned me down so you can understand my surprise at hearing her response and the need to make sure we were on the same page: me, glad: “Are you sure? Don’t get me wrong but I’ve already been turned down by a few firms and I’m glad to finally find someone who can help me. “The young lady doesn’t seem to share my joy, so I say: “How do you do it? How much does it cost?” The answer came as fast and dry as the previous ones: “Send us the model you want by email and the prices are on the website”. Disappointed, I realise that he didn’t understand anything and start again with the slower explanations and how clearly I understood, thinking that maybe I wasn’t coherent enough the first time. I can hear her screaming at someone: “Hey, can we make business cards in a shape other than rectangular?”. I don’t hear what she’s being told but she informs me: “Send by email and we will reply”.
You can imagine how eager I was to continue the conversation so I say a thank you, she says goodbye without any other closing words and hangs up.
I make a few more calls still no success, I had one offer and no comparison. I’m thinking that it doesn’t take me long to send the request by email, who knows, maybe I’ve come across a very new or weaker employee, after all, I don’t judge the whole company by one employee so I’m writing. The response I get within minutes politely informs me that they only make classic business card designs. I was totally surprised by the wording: “As we spoke on the phone… “considering that the email was signed by a man and I had clearly spoken to a woman, just to put the icing on the cake.
Fortunately, I also have examples of pleasant experiences as a customer of some companies and it is always the people, the employees you come into contact with, who make the difference. I have yet to meet a contractor or company director who doesn’t want happy customers, but what they do to make sure that happens…that’s another story altogether.
When you run a company, you can’t leave it to chance or luck the quality with which your clients or potential clients are treated. You need to make sure that each employee is clear about the standard you want them to perform to and consistently measure that this standard is maintained. There are plenty of tools and firms offering advice in the market and some are within the reach of any firm, regardless of size and budget.
A very effective and affordable tool in increasing the quality of customer interaction is the company’s telephone system; modern systems include many features that you can use, properly configured the telephone system can be a goldmine in trying to have an interaction that generates trust and demonstrates professionalism:
– Greeting message: a customer often makes their first impression of a company by the way they are answered on the phone: affectionate or icy, polite or dry, with simplistic or elevated language; the greeting message achieves this first contact at the same quality standard on every call.
– Promotional messaging: a free and easy-to-implement method of making a promotion, event or important information known to anyone who calls a company, either immediately after greeting or while waiting to be picked up by an employee
– Call transfer: for customers who call and do not reach the person they are looking for, it is annoying to be asked to hang up and call again; it is totally unprofessional to shout for a colleague to come to the phone or to run with the phone to the next office; call transfer means for the customer a help, saving time and money, and for the company an image gain and the elimination of the risk of losing a potential customer who might not come back with a second call.
– Follow-me: if a customer needs to get in touch with a specific employee and the employee has field work, with the follow-me function the caller will follow him wherever he goes (he can have an extension set directly on his mobile phone); for the customer this means interest and availability from the company.
– Queueing: which removes the annoying busy tone; a potential customer is willing to call back a number that rings busy a maximum of 2-3 times, after which they usually give up, and an existing customer quickly turns into an unhappy customer if they can’t easily get in touch with someone to solve a potential problem
– IVR, hourly routing: interactive answering system, popular answering machine, which invites you to press a certain key either for the department or person you are looking for, or for a certain information; in addition, it can be set to play another message outside office hours
– Call recording, whisper&barge-in: calls can be recorded for further consultation or for employee training and evaluation, a call in progress can be listened to and support can be provided to the employee without hearing the caller,
see dedicated article
– Voicemail to email: if a customer leaves a voicemail message it immediately arrives as a file to the desired email
– Callback: if you have a website you are interested in facilitating access to visitors and to turn them into customers as quickly as possible; the callback button asks the visitor to leave the phone number, and the switchboard instantly calls an employee, when he answers, the switchboard calls the customer and the connection is made practically in a few seconds, being a free call for the latter.
– Internal chat: by improving collaboration between employees you ensure that customer issues are dealt with more quickly and efficiently,
see dedicated article.