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What Do Your Customers Hear?

January 12, 2014
Mary Jane Copps

Happy New Year everyone! I’m certainly looking forward to an abundant and joyful 2014 and am so pleased I can share it with you.

My holiday, which was perfect, did provide this week’s phone story. Our days of family, friends and food meant we did have more dishes and laundry to do, and the need to keep our home warmer than usual (my husband and I tend to ramble around in fleece pullovers and down vests).

As a result, I ended up calling our oil company – something I rarely do because they are 100% reliable with automatic delivery. My first call was on a weekday (Wednesday) and, as always, I was greeted with tremendous warmth. No need for an account number, they always recognize my name. I was told we were scheduled for a delivery in the next few days, likely before the weekend. Perfect!

Then temperatures fell drastically. We had one radiator that stopped working and, suspecting a frozen pipe, we left the furnace running constantly. I watched the gauge on the oil tank creep below empty.

On Saturday I placed another call. I got the standard “all our agents are busy” message and was put on hold immediately. Knowing the colder weather had created heating issues everywhere, I was patient, unconcerned about how long it took them to answer.

But then things went sideways. The woman who answered had no warmth. She did not recognize my name. She did not care that I had called earlier in the week. In fact, she did not even look at my file. This confused me. Based on past experience, I had anticipated having a conversation, maybe even talking about our frozen pipe dilemma. My confusion and her detachment made for a very messy conversation.

Then a high pitched, urgent alarm went off behind her. The stress in her voice increased and she told me she had to deal with an emergency, quickly putting me on hold. This alerted me, finally, to the fact that I had reached an answering service. Oh!

There is a vast – and startling – difference between how my oil company behaves on the phone and how their answering service handles the same task. The experience could have been made less jarring simply by having the answering service identify themselves as such. A phrase like “You’ve reached the answering service of …” at the beginning of the call would have allowed me to adjust my expectations and made a huge difference in how I communicated the reasons for my call.

I encourage every business, whether you use an answering service or have someone on staff answering the phone to check in from time to time to confirm how they are greeting and communicating with your customers. Everyone should be welcomed; everyone should “hear” your desire to be of service. This is how strong relationships are made and maintained.

As a customer, what do you do when you are not greeted warmly on the phone? Do you say something? Or accept it as today’s status quo? 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Steve Foran says:

    Amazing…. and great suggestion.

    What happened with your pipes and heat?

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Steve, for your comment – and for inquiring about the pipes. It all turned out well. And the oil delivery crew stayed in touch with us by phone, even though they were completely overwhelmed. We got a delivery on Sunday.

  2. Maria Caines says:

    That is a great suggestion and one that would have benefitted not only the oil company but also the person assigned to answer the calls on behalf of that oil company.

    Sometimes, as I make calls to customers, I receive a similar response. They are often rude about having had to answer the telephone at all. Everyone seems entirely too busy in the course of their normal lives. Perhaps a little bit of scheduled downtime everyday would benefit all of us.

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Maria, for your comments. And I think you’ve given me another blog post. Some companies do encourage staff to take breaks from answering the phone – allowing them to “breathe” and get re-focused on delivering great service.

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