Your Small Business Image can be Shattered by Your Phone
By BIG Mike McDaniel
Business to Business relationships come to expect a certain level of professionalism, from the first telephone call to the final delivery.
Your business can be on the Really Big 500 list, employ only a handful of people, or be a business of one but what is said by that business to other business customers will reflect the personality of that business. It can be a PR boost or a PR blowout.
Have you called the telephone company or your long distance provider lately? Chances are you will get a machine telling you to "listen closely because the menus have changed" (as if they know you called last year).
When you do listen closely, chances are there is not a choice on the menu that sounds like the reason you called. Worse, you could choose a selection and be directed to an area that does not answer with no way to get back to real people. What does that say about the company? Terrible impression.
Only the company's bean counters will argue that all that "select and press" boogie-woogie is good for the company. Word of mouth is faster and cheaper than any other form of advertising, and very widespread. Have you talked with anyone that thinks voice mail menus are nifty?
Same if you have to call an insurance company, or credit card company. Now, it seems, more and more calls are greeted with the "all our agents are busy, please hold" message. Can you imagine how that one got started? "Look, Herb, if we put the main line on voice mail, we can trim our customer support staff in half, just have the machine say 'everyone is busy helping other customers', we can save really big bucks!" Not much for PR is it? Even worse if they ditch the 800 number and make you pay for the call.
For years I have told my clients to look to the big boys to see how they do things. Now I hedge my advice, by pointing them at the big boys that are doing it right, because so many have made more than one wrong turn on the road to a professional, caring image.
The telephone is only one part of the puzzle, but one of the most important parts. I tell my clients with small to mid size businesses to call the office from time to time to see how the phone is answered.
I cannot count the number of times I have had to ask to person answering the phone to repeat the mesh of words that just flew by. Hundreds of times I have been ka-thudded on hold with not so much as a "Hang on Bub!"
It is true, you can hear a smile on the other end of the phone. You can also hear indifference and the Easy one to spot is outright disgust. One bored telephone person can do more to undo what took years to do more than any other company asset (or liability).
What if your company is you? Staff of one with a home office. What happens when a call comes in and you are not there to put on your best voice? Does a machine get it? In how many rings? What does the machine say? Does your machine make sense if you call from a pay phone?
It only takes a few minutes to draft a script for the answer machine. So much better than an ad lib. Even the pros write it down. Forget about that "I'm not here" stuff, any moron can figure that one out. No need to lecture them with "..say your phone number twice" or "talk slowly, I am not a stenographer". Record it over and over until it sounds bright, happy, and clear enough for Grandma to understand.
How do you feel when you make a business call and a machine answers to tell you "if you want to send a fax, press start now!"? Makes you question the quality of the business, doesn't it? Can't they even afford a separate fax number?
You see it on printed material, too, "..for fax, call first so we can turn on the machine". It is hard to imagine such a setup being used for more than one or two faxes a year. The impression that a lack of a separate fax number gives is negative in every respect.
The ultimate professional faux pas is to use your home phone number as your business number. This might work if you are the only one ever to answer the phone and your machine always answers if you are away (even if the house of full of kids and an in-law or two). What usually happens is a child, or grandchild, will answer "huh-whoah?"
"Is this Acme Consulting?"
"I'll get my Mommee (clunk) Mommeeee"
Neat first impression. Consider the ramifications if a teenager in your house has figured out how to dial out.
Here are two simple ideas to help give your business a professional front, telephone-wise.
If you already use a separate line for the fax machine, but still use your home phone as your business line, start using the fax number as your main business number. Make sure no one else answers it. Put your answer machine on it and leave the home phone alone. Put your new number on everything and send email to those that may have the old one. The transition won't take long.
You won't lose any faxes because you can get a free fax number from several sources that send the faxes to your computer. No banner ads to read, just free fax service. I have had one for years. I have a dedicated fax number and don't pay a penny.
My fax number converts any fax to an eMail attachment and it arrives in my eMail box. I can read my faxes from any computer, worldwide. In my office I can read and pitch, or print and read. I don't buy fax paper anymore. Some folks call them electronic faxes. The point is, you can get a fax number all your own, without extension, that anyone can use, 24 hours a day, for free. No hidden costs or startup fees.
The two most popular are jfax.com and efax.com but any Internet search for "free fax numbers" will bring up a bigger list.
If you don't have a fax number at home, call the telephone company and order a second residential line. Just tell them you want a second line, no need to explain. Once it is installed, make it your main business line and get a free fax number.
Now your business card can show a main line, a fax line and a cell phone and your mother-in-law can't run off new business.
If it walks like a pro and acts like a pro...
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