There is an old expression that says, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." This is especially true when trying to develop new customer growth. Consider the following questions:
- What initial impressions are made on potential customers when they are first introduced to your company?
- More importantly, what impression do you want potential customers to have?
With an abundance of options available to most customers, it is imperative that you and your company give the customer every reason to like you at first glance. Throughout the winter I'll help you examine a variety of areas you and your company can improve to make a positive first impression.
First Impression - Professional Telephone Etiquette
In a study of why customers defect from doing business with their current contractor, more than 40% of the responding customers blamed their defection on how they were treated by a business. More specifically, a significant reason included the negative tone and apathetic attitude that was projected over the telephone. Telephone etiquette is crucial to a small and growing business -- heck, it is crucial to any size company.
Starting with yourself, everyone in your company needs to understand how to answer the telephone, how to take a message, how to respond to customer questions -- and how to do all of that without leaving the customer feeling irritated, stupid, or with unanswered questions. We might never get a "second chance" if a customer has a lousy experience during that first phone call.
So let's lay out a few guidelines for your company to use when answering the telephone. (Many of the guidelines also work when initiating calls to prospects or customers.)
Step #1: Company Name + "How may I help you?"
Sounds too simple but try calling any contractor you know, even your own office, between 7:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. and see what happens. Why these times? Because that's when a contractor's telephone is the hottest and when people answering the phone have the least amount of time. It is critical that each receiving call be answered in a similar and positive fashion:
"Good morning (or afternoon), this is Friendly Excavation & Supply; How may I help you?"
Tip: Encourage your people to smile when answering the telephone. A training tip is to set a mirror in front of an employee to let her view her facial expressions when on the telephone. Sound crazy? Try it yourself and see if it doesn't help change your approach and attitude.
Step #2 - Take Notes & Briefly Summarize Comments
Anyone answering the phone should keep a pen and message pad handy so that notes about the customer call can be immediately taken. In my own consulting efforts I find contractors missing important facts about customer calls because someone neglected to record the details. If you have a receptionist you should have fewer problems with this concern but be sure that the receptionist is trained in these same first impression techniques.
However, many small contractors and construction dealers don't have a designated telephone receptionist. In many companies the person who first answers the telephone might also be the bookkeeper, job scheduler, even the chief bottle washer. Everyone, including secretaries, front line employees, supervisors, foreman, and yourself must realize the importance of taking accurate notes. They also should make it a point to periodically summarize for the customer what the customer is saying. This not only helps make sure you're on the same page as the customer but it let's the customer know you're engaged in their call.
Tip: Instruct your employees to record names, dates, addresses, key questions asked or problems mentioned, etc. while speaking with the customer. It is not important to record every word spoken, only key points. For some in-house training try reading a one-page article from a trade magazine and have your employees take notes on your reading. Compare the notes they take to the actual facts read from the article.
Step #3 - Close with "Thank You for Calling!"
First-class customer service begins by sharing appreciation with a customer for having chosen your company to do business with. This appreciation should start on the very first telephone call.
Once the reason for the telephone call is completed, it is wise to always end your call with a sincere, "Thank you, Mr. Smith, for calling. Have a nice day." While this is simple, it does leave the conversation on a positive note.
Remember, your first-impression efforts must be positive, encouraging the prospect to feel satisfied about their first experience with your company. Because many first time telephone calls will be handled by your company's office personnel it is crucial that these people are properly trained on professional telephone etiquette -- and held accountable to creating a great first impression.
While customers sometimes initiate calls when they are angry or frustrated, it is always in the contractor's best interest to stay calm and collected when on the telephone. A relaxed but attentive and responsive voice over the telephone is often rewarded with both a welcome sigh of relief by the customer and additional work for the contractor. Remember, empower your telephone skills to make a first impression that begins a long and successful relationship with a customer!