While everyone knows how to use the phone, very few of us use it to its full potential to build and reinforce customer relations. Every phone call represents a verbal impression with your customer. Make sure every call enhances that relationship:
Same Rules as In-person Meeting: If you extend the same respect and commitment to customers in phone communication that you would in in-person meetings, you will have positive outcomes. In every customer call, your goal is to demonstrate that they have your full attention and that there is nothing more important than that conversation. Whenever possible, schedule a specific time and duration for the phone call, based on your customer’s preference.
Stay Focused: Recent technology such as speaker phones and cell phones has given us the ability to do other things while talking to our customers. Resist the temptation! Any gains in efficiency via multi-tasking will be more than lost by your lack of focus on the call/customer, and worse, their perception of your divided attention. You wouldn’t read through your email or organize your desk during a customer meeting, so don’t do it during a customer phone call.
Beware the Speaker Phone: Speaker phones have negative implications for many people. As a general rule, the speaker phone should only be used for customer calls when there is a specific benefit to the customer (vs. your convenience), such as getting input from other members of your organization. ALWAYS ask permission to put someone on speaker phone. ALWAYS tell them who else is in the room.
Inbound vs. Outbound Calls: Different rules apply for inbound and outbound calls. Make every effort to take customer calls, even if you are not in your office. Showing your availability is more important than having the ideal setting for the call. Outbound calls, however, should be made from your office or a setting in which you can conduct the conversation without distraction. Don’t call your customer from the line at Starbucks. Wait five minutes until you are back in your (parked) car or office and able to give your full attention.
Timing is Everything: Don’t make unscheduled calls first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Find out customers’ preferred days and times for phone communication.
Leaving a Message: If a customer has requested simple information, go ahead and leave the answer on voicemail; it will save them having to call you back. Then reiterate the information in a written email or text message. Never try to substitute a phone conversation with a long rambling voicemail; it is both annoying and unprofessional.
After each customer phone interaction, ask yourself whether the call advanced your relationship and position with the customer.