What once was THE MOST highly traveled portal into a business has become a mere shadow of itself. The PBX / key system / Centrex, which processed all inbound phone calls to the business, was THE lifeline for nearly all businesses. And if the phone system was down, business screeched to a halt, executives stormed the telecommunications room door, and the hunt was on to identify the culprit (equipment or carrier) and exercise the contractual emergency response times. But the internet, email, texting, cell phones, online shopping, and other business portals have significantly altered that landscape and much of it in a very helpful and productive way.
In the early 2000’s, when I was an account rep, selling PBX’s to a fairly large medical group, I was taken aback by the high level CIO’s comment to me; “PBX redundancy and uptime is not as important to us as it was in years’ past”. He held his cell phone up to me, suggesting that cell phones provided a sense of “system redundancy”. I didn’t understand or grasp, until that very moment, that indeed, the world of telecommunications was changing at a very rapid pace. The reality was that internet, email, chat, smartphones and other emerging communication tools were indeed diminishing the value of the legacy PBX / key system. And the pushing of clients to use these alternative portals was gaining momentum.
Businesses continue to work hard to push clients to alternative portals, due to the staggering costs associated with personnel to manage phone calls and manage the systems needed to take the calls. The good news is that recent generations actually embrace portals, self-help, and information gathering that does not include a conversation with a human. Traditional retail brands such as Toys-R-Us (kids like apps on phones, and not toys anymore), The Limited, and Gymboree have all filed for bankruptcy, thanks in part to cultural buying habits and online shopping.
So, why are inbound phone calls more important today?
If your customer has chosen to call you, it’s important. Now here’s the problem. A real-time discussion is needed to solve a scheduling conflict or a billing error needs to be addressed. There may even be emotion involved. This is the point whereby a client can be earned or lost.
While the inbound phone calls of yesteryear may have been for routine communication, clearly worthy of being handled in a more automated manner, today’s phone call typically has a greater sense of need / urgency and handling that is beyond the ordinary. It’s also loaded with opportunity in terms of solidifying a relationship, saving an order, or furthering branding efforts. Yet, many businesses have abandoned providing good tender, love, and care of the customer phone call.
Automated Attendants swamp the world, forcing the caller to spend time working through options, menus, selections, and in the event the menu doesn’t offer their desired destination, callers are often intentionally disconnected, not offered a ‘zero out’ to a person (because they don’t exist), or they may be allowed to leave a voice mail message that is not responded to in a timely manner.
When automated attendants truly became popular in the 1990’s, careful attention was given to the design of the Automated Attendant, and the clear majority of business executives wanted that caller to have an option to get personal help if needed. Even that condition has changed over the past two decades in the ever present desire to drive out costs, completely overlooking the potential consequences of a poor customer experience.
What action can you take to avoid losing clients?
Here are a few deep dive recommendations for any business owner, sales executive, or public relations manager at a business.
Try to assign a $ value of a lost client, or a gained new client. It will help to evaluate the bullet points below. Next, call your business three times. The first time as a potential new client seeking a conversation. Another time as an existing client needing support. And a third time as an angry existing client needing to discuss a bill or other issue. Make your calls at peak calling times so you an experience potential worst case scenarios.
If you still use voice mail, make absolutely sure that each employee records their own personal greeting. Too often today, that is forgotten and overlooked. Imagine your client’s frustration when they reach John’s voice mail, only to hear…”the person….at extension 302…is unavailable….please leave a message…..”
Now your client is thinking:
- Is this John’s voice mailbox for sure?
- Why doesn’t the greeting say his name?
- Does John still work here?
- Is John on vacation?
- Will I get a response?
…And if you are disallowing a caller the ability to dial zero and seek additional help, you have essentially slapped them in the face. There’s no other way to put it.
If you’re using ON HOLD MESSAGING, we naturally think that’s a good thing, as long as it is using current content and providing useful information to the caller. But, consider NOT telling them to go to the website. They KNOW how to get to your website. They called you for a reason that most likely could not be addressed on your website.
If, indeed, your portals are drawing some clients away from calling you, consider removing your AUTOMATED ATTENDANT, and given your lower call traffic, going above and beyond with that rare caller to your business. Seize the opportunity to bond with that client and make the connection that no portal can provide. And rest easy that your increased personal touch will not cause clients to abandon your other portals. Newer generations love portals. Older generations? Not so much. Take a moment to evaluate the loss of a client that prefers a conversation.
Finally, we all have competitors. We certainly do here at On Hold Marketing, and some of them are good friends, potential referral sources, and industry partners. When I call some of them, I continue to marvel at how many of them choose to not answer their phones during business hours. The automated attendant answers, offers options that include “for Sales, press 2” at which time I press 2, and get a voice mail greeting of the sales team or business owner. If I’m a prospective client, that is……a lost sale. If I am an existing client perhaps seeking to cancel service, I’m stating that on voice mail, and that is a lost client, with little to no chance of being revived.
Today, inbound phone calls are important. There may not be as many phone calls to your business, but they are important. ……..more important than ever!
Rich is the President of On Hold Marketing, a marketing focused audio studio helping businesses and practices take advantage of their telephone system’s On Hold capabilities. Prior to On Hold Marketing, Rich spent 20 years in telecommunications working for such giants as Williams Communications, NextiraOne, Bell Atlantic and Nortel Networks. You can reach Rich at 804-273-6900.