My inspiration to create this article on “best practices for call handling” is based on a series of experiences I recently had over a short 2 day period as I made telephone calls to several businesses. It is important to describe the nature and purpose of my phone calls to these businesses. The calls were a combination of:
1. Sales calls. So maybe you don’t want these calls anyway? A salesperson is also a business professional that is impressionable. And many of their products are critical to the operation of the businesses they call.
2. Attempts to make an appointment as a paying customer (revenue)
3. Attempts to locate a particular individual so I could provide a business referral (revenue)
Being On Hold Takes Time. . . . . .
As an introductory summary, I marveled at the time consuming and negative experience I had in navigating through the automation tools presented throughout my below described journey. The automation tools were supposed to help direct me to where I needed to be……..or were they? It moreover made me feel like I wasn’t welcome to call them. It made me wonder if any best practices for call handling were taken into account.
I shook my head in disbelief at the poor attempts to sensibly use technology as an aid. I have concluded that many businesses fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on what technology can do to help their business as opposed to how the technology can help the client of that same business.
Music & Sound Marketing Solutions
All too often, a business, small or large, will deploy a technology solution that while it may be designed and deployed to reduce costs by reducing human resource expenditures, the design and programming often creates roadblocks along the way that can result in negative consequences. I’m becoming more convinced that senior executives are not considering these best practices for call handling.
The Call Handling Don’t List:
- Serious levels of frustration to clients, patients and business partners. The inability to cleanly measure lost business does not mean it doesn’t happen. Consider the possibility that the “Publishers Clearinghouse Guy” just knocked on your door to deliver good news, but you chose not to answer the door.
- The perception that is created by the offending company that they are disorganized and insensitive to the needs of their clients and partners. Upon questioning a company’s poor communication efforts, the next natural tendency is to ask oneself whether or not the company is competent with their service offering.
Let’s get right to the most glaring experience I had which is specific to item 3 (attempt to provide a referral) noted above (the call to the Fortune 500 company), followed by a few helpful tips.
THE FORTUNE 500 PHONE CALL: This may have been the single worst experience I’ve had in over a decade, though I consistently experience elements of the following phone call on a regular basis. I laughed out loud at this particular experience. My objective was to locate a particular individual in the Fortune 500 company in order to provide a highly qualified referral.
I had a name of my party at the Fortune 500 company and his physical address. Email / chat was not an option in this situation. It needed to be a conversation for sure, which is becoming a lost art-form. So……I use a search engine (Google in this case) to seek a main phone number. NO PHONE NUMBER WAS LISTED, nor was it included on the HOME PAGE of their internet site. Are you kidding me?
And while I’m now convinced that this was intentional, I can only venture that they were not aware of how horrible the experience would be for a fresh new caller. While on the Fortune 500 company’s website, there was an option for me as a caller was to fill out a form…….yes an electronic form on their website and they would call me back. I’ve seen that trend emerge and can’t seem to grasp the rationale. I refused to fill out the form. I eventually found a main phone number using clever investigative techniques and called it.
This building houses over 500 people by the way. An automated attendant answered (acceptable solution in my book) and it offered 8 options (not a prudent decision), none of which satisfied my need. I attempted to ‘zero out’ to a warm body, not caring if it was a security guard or lobby receptionist. What I heard was “ring no answer” for 6 rings, and then the initial automated attendant all over again. I decided to be more patient and listened more closely all the way down to Option 8, which suggested if I knew the caller’s extension I could enter it, or press # for a company directory.
Yeah I know, I should have listened to all options closely on the first time through, but “zero out” seemed simpler and turns out would have been WAY simpler had I been answered. As directed, I spell a name and find my party, JOHN DOE. The system tells me JOHN DOE’S extension number. I enter all requested digits properly and hear a recorded name that announces the name “DORIS TAYLOR” and then I’m transferred. I hear three rings and voice mail answers with JEFF SMITH’s personal greeting. I decide to “zero out”. I then hear “An operator is not available”, followed by the main Automated Attendant.
You get the picture. A laughable quagmire reeking of system abuse. I attributed this to system mismanagement and poor training for employees. I made my way back to the Directory and just made up a name and eventually found an unsuspecting human to answer the phone. By this time, I’m just plain curious. The referral could wait or go elsewhere. The unsuspecting human that eventually answered me had NO INTERNAL DIRECTORY of the company, yet knew the person’s name (JOHN DOE). This person struggled to figure out how to transfer me anywhere.
In an effort to keep this rant to a dull roar, I’ll spare the reader from the multiple other experiences I had over the next two days. The same elements of mismanagement and poor design were present.
Proper On Hold Marketing Can Save Your Customers
Here’s the point. Technology can be very good. And let’s all be fully aware the younger generations (I’m 54) prefer data touch over personal touch, and I’m fine with that. But when technology takes on the role of proactively blocking communication rather than enhancing it, don’t blame the technology. Blame the decisions made in its deployment. These decisions rest squarely on the shoulders of the company IT / Telecom department and moreover the executives above them. Unfortunately, they rarely call their own company and sample the caller or new client experience. If they do call their own company, they get red carpet treatment naturally and just assume all is well.
My recommendations to all of us as business owners, large and small include.
The Best Practices for Call Handling To-Do List:
- Calling your company. Do it anonymously so nobody knows the caller is a company executive. Pretend you have never engaged your company and you chose to use the telephone to contact your company. It may feel awkward but play it out. Try to buy something or inquire about your product or service. If you are placed ‘on hold’ or are put ‘in queue’, see if you are OK with that experience. If you hear SILENCE while on hold, make note of that. If you heard an out of date on hold message or music not in keeping with what you envision your audio brand should be, make note of that. Though you may have direct lines to all individuals and fewer phone calls than you had 10 years ago, ….you do still have callers on hold throughout the day. The most likely caller to be on hold is the caller that is brand new to your company. I certainly don’t need to write anything about “First Impressions”.
- How do your folks ‘sound’?. If you have a live person answering calls, see if you like the way they are greeting your callers. Are they too fast (quite common)? Harried sounding? Do they say the company name so fast it is not even discernible? Is there too much noise in the background?
- Ask to be routed to another party. Ask to be transferred to a particular employee or department and see what happens after a successful transfer? Do this 5 or more times and see who is answering calls and who might be hiding behind voice mail on a consistent basis. Listen to the voice mail greetings. How do the employees sound? Professional? Rushed? Have they recorded their personal greetings or does their greeting sound canned, akin to “Extension 1001…….is unavailable….please leave… Etc.” Do not allow this to happen unless you have some security reason to do so. It is somewhat rude in a sense to not confirm to a caller that they are leaving voice mail in the right place.
- Publish an internal “Company phone etiquette” guide on your internal website. Post it in the lunchroom. One page should do it. Include your expectations in terms of how the company name is stated, how voice greetings are recorded and expected time until a call might be returned. Have your IT / Telephone folks include directions on how to manage their phone programming.
- My guess is that your company has spent some serious $’s on how the lobby looks to visitors. For a mere fraction of those $’s, you can clean up the phone lobby also. You’ve paid for the technology, so make it work for you in a positive way instead of allowing it to produce frustration for your callers. The good news is that your technology platform already has options built in to allow you to design a friendly experience. Most likely, the cleaning up of your system will not require an upgrade or significant time or dollar investment. It will most likely boil down to design, programming, and training to employees.
This also goes for websites! I also marvel at the serious amount of content I see on a website that is out of date, unclear and obsolete. I think I’ll check ours right now!