When a customer, or even a prospective customer, calls a company during regular business hours, he or she generally has an expectation (and let’s face it, an understandable one) that the call will be answered. If the call cannot be answered right away, most consumers expect to at the very least be directed to a way to get the help they are seeking. And while this is especially true for businesses that consumers depend on for essential services, it applies across the board to a large extent, no matter what category of products or services the business might offer.
What are the potential consequences when a business call goes unanswered? There is a range of them and none of the options are especially good for business. Among the business-hampering possibilities:
- Lost sales: This threat can be especially damaging for businesses whose offerings are of high value, such as real estate agents, builders and contractors, law firms, auto sellers and auto mechanics.
- Lost customers: While this could amount to a relatively minor loss of a one-time sale, it could also cause a much longer-term loss in revenues if it results in missing out on a customer with a high lifetime value.
- Negative consumer impressions/sentiments: Missed phone calls can cause consumers to question the professionalism of a company, setting the stage for a customer to harbor undesirable sentiments toward the brand.
- Reputational impacts: Especially if missed phone calls continue to happen over time, the company can begin to develop a bad reputation, worsened by negative word-of-mouth advertising spread by irritated consumers.
- Reduced employee motivation: Further, when employees see that phone calls are regularly missed or abandoned at a company, they internalize the sense that the business is not committed to strong customer service, perpetuating the negative impacts.
Seizing a solution
The ideal result of a business call, of course, is for a person to answer the phone. According to Consumer Reports, 75 percent of consumers surveyed said that they are highly annoyed when they cannot get a live person on the phone at a business. (This high number made it the top-rated annoyance in the survey, tied for first place with a customer service representative being rude or condescending during a customer’s call.) Further, according to research, about 70 percent of customers will stop working with a business whose customer service they perceive as lacking, and around 60 percent will take their business to rival companies.
So what can a company do to avoid all of the negative consequences created by missed calls? Consider these five ways to ensure that every customer’s call gets the attention it deserves:
- Prioritize answering business calls. Make sure to stress to employees the importance of answering incoming calls, both during initial employee orientation and on regular occasions afterward, especially if missed calls begin to become a common issue. Further, if the business does not already have a devoted receptionist, designate someone whose role flexibility makes them a fit to be the regular call answerer if other employees are busy.
- Ramp up your business phone features. Having a robust and reliable business phone system can greatly increase the odds that all incoming calls will be answered, ideally by a person, but otherwise by voicemail or an auto attendant if needed. Features like simultaneous ring (which allows for multiple phones to ring at once when calls come in) and call forwarding can greatly increase the odds that a live person will answer customers’ incoming calls.
- Forward calls to mobile devices. No matter where employees may be, it is a safe bet that their mobile phones are not far away. By forwarding incoming calls to designated employees’ mobile devices so that both the office and mobile phones ring when calls come in, businesses can increase the chances that customers will get an answer when they call.
- Check voicemail frequently. When business calls do slip by and go unanswered, a voicemail system can serve as a great backup to ensure that customers are not stuck enduring a nonstop ringtone. For this to be effective, though, it is important to urge employees to check their voicemail regularly and to clean old messages out of the system so that inboxes do not fill up. A voicemail-to-email feature is another great way to ensure that connected employees do not miss their voicemail messages.
- Have employees designate an alternate contact when out of the office. When employees take time off for vacation, their customers and contacts still have business needs that must be met. To ensure that someone can answer or return these customers’ calls before the vacationing employee returns, have the employee designate a contact to field their calls while they are out. It is also helpful for the vacationing employee to record an “out of the office” message on their voicemail accounts before leaving.
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