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JD Rucker

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“Hello?” What is Wrong with Our Phone Calls?


What happened to phone etiquette? Is texting to blame for our apparent lack of interest in voice-on-voice interaction, and our apparent amnesia about how the conversation should flow? I’m blown away every time I call a business and receive an answer of “Hello?” It happens fairly frequently and each time I’m sure the recipient can feel my discomfort when I have to ask, “Am I speaking to XYZ Company?” Usually that’s all it takes for the tone of voice to change and the switch flipped to business mode with a swift and perky, “Um, Yes! This is Carl with XYZ, how may I help you?” On occasion however, you have to go through Round 2, and its excruciatingly poor form.


“Hi, I’m trying to reach XYZ Company, is this the correct number?”


“Uhhh… great, can I speak to someone in sales?”

“Yes, hold please.”

[INSERT EXPLITIVE HERE] What in the world is going on? Often it’s easy to tell you’ve reached a business person on their mobile phone. They answer with no mention of the business they represent until they determine that you are in fact, NOT, a frat brother whose name they forgot to save to contacts, or a telemarketer. Guys, if your cell phone is your business line, you have to do better. Answer every unknown number as if you are the receptionist for the President, of your company, hell, of the United States. It’s an oldie, but you truly never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Now let’s talk about automated systems, and how much I loathe them. I have yet to meet a single person who enjoys talking to a robot (except for maybe Steve Guttenberg.) The messages are getting stupid long before you reach the prompts.

“Thanks for calling XYZ Company, home of the XYZ amazing product/service, where we drink sunshine from the water fountain and sprinkle rainbows on our donuts. Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.”

LET’S STOP RIGHT HERE. First, don’t squeeze a commercial into your intro, it takes up the caller’s precious time, and they already called you, they probably have an idea what you are good at. Just stop. Next, no, your menu options have not changed. How often do you REALLY change your menu options that we need to take up another precious few seconds of the caller’s day to announce it on every call? Even if they accidentally reach the incorrect extension because they failed to “listen carefully” I’m sure they will find their way eventually. Cut it. It’s obnoxious.

I’d like to see all the automation die, but if that is not an option at least drop to a minimum of three choices, the last one being A LIVE OPERATOR. Sales/Service/Operator… that’s it. Not this:

“Press One for Sales, Press Two for Service, Press Three for Parts, Press Four for the Body Shop, Press Five for Accounts Payable, Press Six for Fleet, Press Seven for Rental, Press Eight for Finance, Press Nine for Car Wash, Press Ten for the Executive Center, Press Eleven for Dial by Name… etc…”

This is not customer-friendly. Invest in an operator, at least while you are open for business, and at best, twenty-four hours a day using an after-hours call center. A well-trained, professional sounding man or woman answering your business line with a warm, friendly, welcoming tone of voice, and politely guiding the caller to the correct person, or department, is the best option. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, how many witty Facebook posts you have, how many great reviews online, where the rubber meets the road, voice-on-voice interaction, you must DAZZLE. If a shopper calls your business and here’s a lethargic “Hello?” you’re off to a very poor start.

Train your receptionists on the basics of what you do. I’m not naming names, but I recently called an automotive digital marketing company and asked for information on PPC, to which the operator replied, “I don’t know what PPC means.” Ouch. I’m not suggesting that receptionists become product specialists, but they should know the basics of your business. Follow simple tried and true techniques like asking permission to place someone on hold, and answering “My pleasure” instead of you’re welcome. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, the wheels have fallen off and rolled down the road, just put them back on! Back to basics.

If your phone number is not on your website, you fail. If your phone number is not on all your digital assets, you fail. If your phone number is not listed correctly, largely, and conspicuously everywhere a potential customer may go looking for it, you fail. If it takes more than four rings for an answer, if the answer is unprofessional, or if Johnny 5 makes the caller wade through a commercial and eight prompts to reach sales, YOU FAIL.

Take a few minutes each week (yes, every single week for the rest of your life) and walk in the footsteps of a shopper. Go online, see how easy it is to find the phone number for your business. Is it in the search results? Is it on your Google Places page, the CORRECT phone number? Dial it. What do you hear? Would you buy from you? If at any point during your project you feel a strong urge do throw your phone out the window, or jump out the window, guess what? Your customers do to. Fix it.

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