Every time you pick up the phone, you have about seven seconds to make a good impression.
In this fleeting instant, you can either win someone over or lose their faith forever. Not to put a ton of pressure on you or anything, but… this small-but-critical time window all begins with your greeting.
Researchers at the New York University found that there are 11 major decisions made about you on this first point of contact.
Imagine, then, how much business you could lose over the course of 12 months if you were doing it wrong!
Because answering the telephone is a seemingly simple task, few small business owners put as much thought into their telephone-answering strategies as they should.
Here’s how to answer the phone in a way that will get those seven seconds off to a great start.
1. Your Attitude Says It All
People often fail to consider what their mood says about their business when they pick up the phone. If a potential customer calls, they’re looking for a successful company they can trust and if the staff sound miserable, browbeaten, or like they’re sitting in an office that’s anything but thriving, seeds of doubt are sown.
Key takeaway: Always adjust your attitude to one of positivity before picking up the phone. Consider pausing for a moment if it rings during a stressful situation and smile before you open your mouth. The smile will come across in the call.
2. A Consistent Greeting Is Crucial
Consistency is the name of the game here. Your greeting may include:
- “Hello,” “good morning/good afternoon,” or even, “thanks for calling…”
- The name of the person who picked up the phone, the company, or both.
- A follow-on question, such as, “How can I help?” or “How may I help you today?”
For example, you could use:
“Good afternoon, Susie’s Shoe Emporium, Susie speaking; how may I help you today?”
This is a strong standard opening for small businesses, but it may be too formal depending on your company and clientele. Keep in mind that it’s important to match your words and tone to your brand. If your business is less formal, a more lighthearted, casual approach might resonate better with your customers:
“Susie’s Hot Dog Emporium — it’s a great day for a great dog — can I take your order?”
Key takeaway: Put together an opening that’s appropriate for your company and make it standard throughout the business to show the people phoning in that you’re consistent and professional.
3. If You’re Distracted, Your Customers Will Know
People aren’t stupid. If you pick up the phone and you’re eating, writing an email, or reading a Skype message, the person on the other end will know all about it. You’ll immediately damage any rapport or credibility with your potential customers by doing this.
Before picking up the phone, face away from your computer and immediately put down any other distractions. Remember, this is not the time to multitask. Customers are the livelihood of your business; why risk losing them by making them feel like they don’t matter?
Key takeaway: Let the people you’re speaking with know that their call is important to you and your company by giving them your undivided attention.
4. Match Your Caller’s Demeanor to Build Rapport
Whether someone calls you with a major problem that needs solving or is cheerful and looking for a sale, always match their demeanor. If the client is quiet and timid, be a little more reserved. If they’re cheerier and more upbeat, mirror that too. If they’re irritated, however, you’re not going to want to act irritated in return. Instead, have a more assertive demeanor to show them you’re going to solve the problem efficiently, but you’re not going to let them run all over you, either.
By adjusting your demeanor to match theirs, you’ll be much better received, have an easier phone call, and build a deeper level of rapport with the customer on a subconscious level. This can work miracles, both in appeasing upset people and increasing your sales conversions.
Key takeaway: Everyone wants to speak to someone who’s on their level. Consider who you’re speaking to and what their emotional state is at that time and match their demeanor accordingly.
5. Always Keep It Professional
If you’re enjoying a little office banter or are otherwise in a good mood, it can be easy to get too casual when a customer calls in. Of course, the charm of being a small business owner is being able to offer friendly, personal customer service that people can’t get at big-box stores, but do your customers really need to know about your bad breakup or be told that slightly inappropriate joke your friend told you? Probably not.
This is how to answer the phone in a more professional manner:
- Avoid the use of inappropriately casual language.
- Never answer the phone while laughing at co-workers, and/or talking to co-workers while on a customer call.
- Stop yourself or staff from bringing up inappropriate subjects from outside of work.
Key takeaway: Stay focused on business and avoid office banter or life outside work from spilling over into your calls.
6. Teach Those Around You
If you have a receptionist, secretary, or even a friend who helps out by answering the phones here and there, teaching them your preferred way of answering the phone is very important. The same goes if you have a home-based business. Teach any family members or friends who might be dealing with potential customers how you would like everyone who calls in to be greeted/spoken to.
- Make it standard procedure to pass any sales inquiries over to you (or anyone else trusted to handle this type of a call).
- Ask that anyone answering the phone never discusses pricing (unless that’s OK with you).
- If appropriate to your business, consider training anyone who answers the phone on how to book face-to-face consultation appointments.
Key takeaway: Remember that not everyone is a trained salesperson and most could probably benefit from a little guidance. If necessary, always have whoever is answering the phone take a message or pass the call onto someone trusted to handle sales calls.
7. Track and Monitor
Now that you know how to answer the phone, it’s time we talked about the next step: gauging effectiveness. As a business owner, it’s critical that you keep a close watch to make sure your team doesn’t become complacent with the newly developed telephone methods. You can do this by investing in some kind of call-recording system or software to listen back to calls or even setting aside time each month to listen in on how people are doing.
By doing this, your team will know you’re serious about the way they speak to your current, and potential, customers, which should keep them on their best behavior year-round.
Key takeaway: It’s easy to become complacent and form bad habits. Strong telephone skills can take a while to become habitual, so implement some kind of tracking and monitoring system that works for you and keeps your team accountable.
Practice Makes Perfect
Phone skills, both your own, and those of anyone who might be answering the phone at your business should be actively developed over the long-term. Nurturing the ability to be “great on the phone” can literally mean the difference between a flourishing, successful career and one that’s a stifled uphill struggle.
Consider recording and listening back to telephone calls, listening to other people for things they do well (or sometimes not so well) and always be on the lookout for ways to do a better job at forming that all-important instant connection with everyone who calls you.