How Do You Say Hello?

Answering services, message machines, voice mail, "on hold" music, speaker phones . . . where would a business be without them? Perhaps--in some situations--a lot better off! In the small to mid-sized business, where every call should count, owners and managers need to ensure that the telephone is an efficient, effective sales tool instead of a handicap. It's important to remember that the caller's first impression of your company is from the voice answering the phone. That first minute or less will help form the caller's lasting opinion of your business, so why not take the opportunity to make that opinion the best possible? Here are a few ideas for improving the way your business says hello.

Call Your Office

Give your office a call--just don't let them know it's you. Have someone whose voice your employees won't recognize place the call, with you standing by waiting to listen. This may sound like cloak-and-dagger tactics, but it's one that successful managers use to monitor the quality of their telephone service. What to listen for:

  • A pleasant salutation ("Good morning, Jones and Jones"), followed by a name, if appropriate, and offer of assistance.
  • An unhurried, interested response to queries, or the offer to connect the caller to someone else who can provide information.
  • A reasonable on-hold time. And, if the time seems longer than normal, is there an apology for the delay?

Check Out Your Service

Conduct a "test" of your answering service similarly to the above; however, you'll be listening here for that extra level of care an answering service should take in personalizing its service. Be sure the following standards are met:

  • Answering service operator answers with the name of your company, not just a generic "May I help you."
  • Operator should know pertinent facts about your business: times of operation, key names of personnel, etc.
  • Check message you give operator against the message that he or she transmits to your company.

If you aren't satisfied, take the time to educate your answering service about your standards and expectations. If the service can't--or won't--comply with your request, engage another organization to do the job.

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Tune Up Your Machine

When was the last time you listened to your own company's answering machine? When you do, turn a careful ear to the following checkpoints:

  • Has the greeting become scratchy or faint? Does it sound tinny or distorted? A new cassette tape might be in order. If this doesn't help, consider a whole new machine. Making sure that the first impression is one of quality is well worth the investment.
  • Are you satisfied with the voice that represents your company? It should be upbeat, but also well-modulated and pleasingly-pitched. Do a test of several voices and choose the one that sounds best "on tape."
  • If your answering-machine recording has background music, or if your company has a call sequencer with on-hold music, be sure the sound is welcoming and soothing.

Take High-Tech Down a Peg

Does your company have automated voice mail? Speaker phones? Conference-call capability? All well and good in this era when communication is king. Just keep in mind the advantages of the "live" human voice--when you make a call, business or personal, isn't this what you prefer to hear? Although the person in your business who answers the phone may well be your lowest-paid employee, remember that this human voice is vital to the image of your company.

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