Good On The Phone

Does your company’s phone skills leave a little to be desired with customers? One dozen tips to keep you from being left with a dial tone.

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There goes the phone, again. You've already got one person on hold and now there's a delivery at the door. You're glad for the business, but how well do callers to your snow and ice management company know that?

Does the phone ring a dozen times before you answer it? Are you uncomfortable talking on the phone? Are you too rushed to be pleasant? Is the caller left on "eternal hold" while you attend to other things?

That ringing phone may be inconvenient for you sometimes, but without it you wouldn't be in business. Every call is a potential or existing customer, and likely a long-term one. The way you handle yourself on the phone determines how well you can win new customers, develop a positive and ongoing rapport with them and existing customers, and increase sales.

You spend good money to get people to dial your snow management company’s phone number, thanks to your print ads, website, social media and various online listings. “All that money is wasted if you don't make sure the caller's possible first contact with your business is favorable,” says Dee Sanford, of Dee Sanford & Associates, a customer service consulting firm based in San Diego.

First, never let an outgoing message or excessive rings be the first thing a caller hears when they dial your number. Make sure someone can answer the phone right away. If that’s not you, then an employee or an answering service. Says Nancy Friedman, president of The Telephone Doctor, a customer-service training company headquartered in St. Louis, “Everything you say and do influences how the caller perceives your business.” With that in mind, make sure you:

Put on a happy face

Before you answer, smile. Doing so either reinforces your already-positive mood or creates one for you. Remember, you're glad that person called, so let them know that. Make it easy for them to want to do business with you.

Be prompt

When you answer the phone by the first or second ring, you communicate eagerness, efficiency and professionalism. Sure, sometimes you're so busy you just can't pick up right away, but don't let more than a few rings go by before you do.

Speak properly

Your voice is the only part of you that allows the caller to form an impression about you and your business. So, don't rush or mumble your words; speak clearly and slowly enough. Too, put some life in your voice by varying the inflection, to avoid a monotonous tone.

Identify yourself

Don't wait for the caller to ask if they dialed the right number. Friedman recommends the three-part greeting: Begin with a buffer of “Hello” or “Good morning,” followed by your snow removal business’s name. Then, say your own name, preceded by “This is . . .”

Offer your help

After your name, say, “How can I help you?” Says Joel Linchitz, president of New York City-based Phone for Success, “When you use the word, 'how,' the person focuses more on why they're calling, so you can both get to the point more quickly.”

Be pleasant

“Never be too busy to be nice,” says Friedman. “Being busy does not give you carte blanche to be rude.” Neither does being in a bad mood. The caller doesn’t care you've got a touch of the flu or you got stuck with a parking ticket while you were frantically running errands during your lunch hour.

Be enthusiastic

When you are, it's often contagious. The caller feels excited about doing business with you and believes that you're invested in their reason for contacting you. Show your sincere interest to talk to and help the caller when you use a cheerful tone of voice and words that convey you care.

Listen actively

Probe the caller with comments that reflect their words, such as “I understand what you mean,” or “You seem to feel pretty strongly about this.” Paraphrase the person, to assure them that you're listening to them and understand what they’re saying. And keep a pen and some paper by the phone so you can take notes.

Keep the caller talking

Use open ended questions to encourage more information from the person. The more you know about the caller and what they want, the better you can meet their needs, and the more opportunities for cross selling and upgrading. For the dissatisfied customer with an angry complaint, let them express it. This will calm them down and provide you with valuable information to serve them better.

Give your attention

The caller has dialed the number of your snow and ice management business, not just any. If they don’t already know they want to do business with you, then they’re at least considering it. Return the person’s interest in your operation with some of your own toward their needs.

Offer options

Do more than merely answer the caller's questions. Suggest other snow and ice-management services that might benefit them. When you plant purchasing ideas in the caller's mind, they feel you care about what they buy from you, and you sow the seeds for additional sales.

Let the caller hang up, first

You want the person to feel as if they have control over the conversation. After all, they control their expense budget. However, if interruptions or immediate priorities put pressure on you to close the call, then offer to call back, saying how long you'll be. Don't forget to thank the caller for phoning you.

It doesn't end here. “The caller wants to know the positive interaction they experienced on the phone with you will be replicated when they come to your business, or you go to theirs,” says Sanford. “You not only want to make a good first impression over the phone, but also carry that impression into every interaction you have with the person.”

Every time you answer the phone, it's an opportunity to build rapport with a potential or existing customer. As owner of your snow removal business, your goal is to acquire customers and maintain their interest in your business by developing relationships. Without them – or the proper telephone etiquette – where would your business be?

Claire Sykes is a freelance writer based out of Portland, Ore., and a frequent Snow Magazine contributor.

May 2019
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