Make Your Telephone the Ultimate Customer-Care Tool
By Jill Fonte
The telephone just might represent the ultimate love/hate relationship. On one hand, it’s the lifeline of our business; on the other, it’s the scourge of our business day. (Can you say “telemarketer”?) Likewise as it relates to our customers, the telephone can cement the relationship or repel them forever.
We communicate volumes to our customers in how the phone is answered, how their requests are handled, how their needs are met, and how their calls are ended. Consider the following:
“Hello. This is Jeannie Anderson. May I speak with John, please?”
“He’s not here.”
“Oh, when do you expect him in?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, I’m calling to see if my racquet’s ready. Can you help me with that?”
“Nope. You have to speak with him.”
“Would you please take my name and ask him to call me?”
“Yup. What is it again?”
“Wait! Would you also please give him my phone number?”
“Yup. What is it?”
It was the last straw. Jeannie never set foot in that shop again. John was a good stringer, and he was a nice enough guy. But some of the shop employees were obviously just marking time to collect their paychecks. They were not concerned with how they came across on the phone, and despite Jeannie’s longstanding relationship as a customer, she always felt that she was starting over with these people every time she called the shop. She didn’t feel acknowledged, let alone appreciated.
How much better might Jeannie have felt if her call had gone more like this:
“Hello. This is Jeannie Anderson. May I speak with John please?”
“I’m sorry Jeannie. John’s at lunch and probably won’t be back for a half hour or so. This is Paul. May I take a message or help you with something myself?”
“I’m calling to see if my racquet’s ready. Can you help me with that?”
“I don’t have your slip here at the counter, which leads me to believe that it’s not finished yet. But, how about if I take your number and ask John to call you as soon as he returns?”
“OK. That would be great. It’s 555-1212.”
“OK, Jeannie. I’ll be sure John gets this message. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“OK, then. Thanks for calling.”
“Thank you, Paul. See you later.”
Many managers never think to teach proper telephone etiquette, but it can pay off handsomely in how a business is perceived. If you’ve not given it much thought and wouldn’t know where to begin, here are a few pointers that can make a big difference in how your employees convey customer care.
Smile before you answer
It’s amazing what a smile does for tone of voice. People who work in call centers (and therefore make their living on the telephone) often have signs or smiley face icons on their desks or telephones reminding them to “Smile!” This isn’t just an attitudinal pick-me-up. It’s a reminder for them to smile before answering the phone. Try it yourself to see what a difference a smile can make in your tone of voice.
Use the caller’s name at the beginning and end of the call
Keep a pad of paper by all the phones in your facility and encourage your employees to write the caller’s name as soon as they hear it. Customers want to feel acknowledged and special. Using a customer’s name is a great way to connect with them and show them they’re not just another anonymous voice at the end of the line.
Bite your tongue before saying “You’ll have to …”
No customer wants to be told what he or she has to do. Instead, try using phrases like, “You might want to …” or “May I suggest that you ….” They are gentler and much less directive.
Ask permission to put people on hold
You know how rude it feels to have your call slammed on hold. Let it be your customer’s choice whether to be placed on hold. “May I put you on hold while I transfer you to John?” is more polite and less directive than just saying, “Hold on.”
Ask if there’s any other way in which you might be of service
Make sure all of the customer’s needs are met before the call is ended. This simple question can make your customer feel that you have all day for them and their concerns. Most often, they won’t need more of your time, but they’ll appreciate the offer.
Give the name of the person to whom you’re transferring the call
Make sure your customer knows where his call is going and with whom he is about to speak. “Gee, I’m sorry. I can’t answer that question. May I transfer you to Jim Smith, our food and beverage manager?”
Make sure a transferred call goes through
“If Jim doesn’t answer and you want to get back to me, please press 0 and ask for extension 107.” This way, your customer doesn’t feel that his call has been dumped into a black hole. We’re seeing more and more voice mail, and we’ve all been frustrated by the voice-mail maze. We’ve all cried, “Can’t I just speak with a live person?!” Pay attention to how your customers are treated if they enter the voice-mail fray at your club.
Let the caller end the call
Customers do not want to feel rushed off the phone. When you do get the occasional chatterbox who wants to bend your ear about string tension or ladies’ league or her rivalry with so and so, politely say, “I’m sorry. I’d love to talk more about this, but I must let you go. I have customers in the shop/I have another line ringing/the UPS man is here” … etc.
The telephone can and should be a customer-care tool. Talk with your staff members about how you want the phones to be answered, how you want calls transferred and how you want the business portrayed over the phone. Being proactive in training your staff helps ensure that your customers will receive consistently high service from your shop or club, even on the phone.
See all articles by Jill Fonte
About the Author
Jill Fonte , who plays tennis at least three times a week, has had a lifelong love of tennis on both a personal and professional basis. She was the owner and executive director of the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association for 20 years and has served on the TIA board of directors for many years. As an executive coach and business consultant, she is currently a Principal in Business Visions Group and has addressed tennis audiences throughout the country through her involvement with the USTA, USPTA, PTR, TIA, USRSA, and various global suppliers. A longtime local and national volunteer, she currently chairs the USTA's National Tennis Innovation Committee, and serves as the Vice President of Marketing and Communication and a member of the governance, strategic planning and personnel committees for the USTA Middle States Section.