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Come on, answer the phone!

April 25, 2013

I am writing this with a deep level of frustration. I just tried contacting a retailer by phone, and got an answering machine - at a retail business - during business hours! It wasn't the first time today, which is what compels me to bring this topic up again.

What's truly unfortunate about this situation is, it's not isolated. It's a very frequent occurrence. It sends the wrong type of message to your customers and potential customers. By not having a human being answer the phone, you're creating a barrier the consumer has to break through. In most instances, they'll simply hang-up and call your competitor. You've lost the sale, and who knows how much in additional dollars of future sales from the customer.

One retailer I called routed me through a phone-tree with an incredible 12 possible extensions. All I wanted to do is talk with a salesperson at the store. Instead, I have to run the gauntlet of this frustrating phone-tree system. Talk about slamming the consumer into a brick wall! It certainly felt like that while I was on the phone. If you don't want to talk with people, why are you in business in the first place?

You are only hurting your business when a consumer cannot get through to a human being at your store. Why place another hurdle in front of a potential customer, who wants to do business with you?

Right now, every retailer needs every customer they can get. The whole idea of buying from an independent retailer is that, hopefully, the customer will get better treatment than they experience at the chain stores. When the consumer encounters roadblocks such as this, it's no wonder they end up at the big box or chain stores.

Speaking of answering the phone, make sure you have clearly communicated how you want your business phone answered. Some retailers have their employees use the same greeting for consistency's sake. What's most important is that every employee answer the phone with a smile and upbeat attitude. Help the customer want to do business with your store.

If you have a small staff, and they are waiting on customers, have them excuse themselves and answer the phone. Get the caller's name and phone number. Tell them, "I'm with a customer in the store right now, if you'll give me your name and phone number, I'll call you back in ____ minutes." Then honor that promise. Most consumers will understand and wait for your return call.

The telephone is a powerful, important business tool. It's a gateway to communicating with consumers who might very well become some of your best customers. The only time when a phone answering system should be used is when the store is closed.

Come on, answer the phone, will ya?! There's a customer calling! If they hang up, you can bet they'll be on the phone to your competitor. Do you want the sale or not?