Is the office phone service your ally? Or have you made it your worst advertisement to your service?

As a franchisee, I am sure you convince yourself that you give the best service available. Have you tried ringing your business and been surprised to find you do not practice what you preach?

Many companies boast how they are in the “Service Sector” of our economy, and spend so much time self praising on the service they give….. Try ringing them up!!!

I tried to cancel a service with our telecommunications provider (of which we, the people, use to own 50%). Having been cut off once, I rang back and waited 12 minutes on the phone hearing how my call “was important to them”, and becoming very frustrated, I ran out of time and hung up. I tried to fax them what was required – the number from the white pages was not operational, I emailed them, and that too disappeared into the ether.

At our office, I have a policy that if I hear the phone ring twice, I personally answer it on the third ring. Our phone system is simple and can be answered from anywhere. I must say it very rarely occurs.

As a customer to many other service businesses, it drives me to major frustration to often find the companies I deal with treat me so poorly.  How often are you treated to:

  • Always being forced to leave messages on message banks that are not cleared or returned.
  • Having phones ring out.
  • Having your calls sifted by some person with no idea on who you are or what you wish to discuss with their boss. Great examples are legal companies where you are diverted from Switch, to a secretary, and then “maybe” the person you are after. Those famous words after you say who is calling… “I shall see if he is available” should be outlawed!
  • Being given the run around by call centres that are obviously not staffed to handle the call volume. My phone provider (mentioned above) even acknowledged that “your time is valuable” on the recording I kept hearing!

What can we do about it?

I guess the first thing we can do is vote with our feet and mouth and either change your service provider (whatever the service), or tell the senior management how poorly they perform in this area.

It is very interesting to ring your own office, and think that what is happening to you is what is typically happening to your customers. If, like me, you become upset hanging on waiting for someone to pick up the phone, how does your customer feel when he actually wants to spend money with you and engage your services or buy your products.

What if you find your company is performing poorly in this area?

I feel the problem really comes down to a couple of issues:

  1. Technical
  2. Staffing levels
  3. Attitude

Technical Issues

Phone systems are becoming cheaper all the time, and with so many features, few of us probably understand the capacity we already have in our phone system. I guess when I am put on HOLD and hear the “chimes”, I really think you are off the pace. I recently congratulated a company I called that I hadn’t heard those bells for 20 years. There are a multitude of Telco suppliers that I am sure can offer a good system.

Staffing Levels

I really believe the large users of Call Centres need to look at what service they are providing to their customers. I recently heard of one call centre who statistically tell you how quickly they answer your call. That was great, but then you went on to hold, into a queue, and still took ages until your call was serviced. I just wish the Managers of the companies using these Centres measured the actual hold times they were inflicting on their customers.

Attitude

This is something we can address. If you preach “the customer is always right” and you claim to give service – do it!

Internal rules in our company are:

  1. We normally have a clear understanding who will first go to pick up a call, ON THE FIRST RING. If they are on another call, or not at their desk, 2 other people probably reach for the phone. If it is ringing a third time, I grab it.
  2. No message bank – I don’t want it thanks
  3. If you are in an internal meeting / discussion, you break out and take the customer’s phone call. You can always resume once you have addressed the customer’s (who pays your wage) query.
  4. If in a meeting with another customer, we ask if someone else can assist, or that whoever they wish to speak with will ring back as soon as they are available.
  5. I BELIEVE WE ACTUALLY DO IT!

Maybe it is an advantage in a small company NOT having direct lines and message banks, as these are the greatest excuse for avoiding customer contact in my view.

If we are calling ourselves a SERVICE INDUSTRY, then it really is time we gave service, and not be driven by the minimal cost savings you may think you are making by providing poor service. Try ringing your own office a few times, or have your friends do it and see if you are happy with the treatment they receive. In many cases, I, THE CUSTOMER definitely am “Not Happy – Jan”.

Peter Buckingham

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