Let’s talk about your green industry company’s first impressions… Even if you think your company does a pretty good job managing this all-important step, you’ve probably not given it all the attention it deserves.

In this article, let’s look at just one aspect of this process: the way your telephone is answered. Experts agree that how your telephone is answered at your small business can increase or decrease the possibility of gaining new customers.

It has been said that you only get one chance to make a good first impression, yet your managers and employees are giving first impressions every time they answer the telephone. Most business owners would concur that the first contact your prospects have with your company can make or break the relationship. When consistently done properly, it can be viewed as part of an important process that funnels more and more new clients into your business.

Imagine this scenario: Your prospect picks up your beautiful color mailer describing your wonderful green industry services and decides to call your office number listed. The phone rings several times and then finally, one of your office staff answers the phone sounding rushed and frantic.

Or imagine this type of a situation: Your prospect calls your office. The phone rings three times and immediately they get a poorly-recorded message asking them to leave their name, number and nature of their request, and that someone will get back to them at a ‘later time’.

Finally, visualize this type of a response: A potential customer calls your office and a gruff-sounding person curtly tells them to hold. No friendly greeting, just the words “please hold.”

None of the three previous scenarios spells certain success for any green industry company hoping to gain new clients. Yet this barrier to trust-building and winning new customers plays out time and time again, every day throughout North America.

According to Susan Wilson Solovic, CEO, SBTV.com, “A customer may be impressed with your firm’s product or service, but their impression may change dramatically the first time they call your office. How your business phone is answered says a lot about your firm. If your employees are rude or mishandle customers, it could cost you more than one customer. Word-of-mouth can transform that one bungled call into ten lost contracts, because there is no fury like a customer scorned!” Take that thought one step further.

Today, with social media, one bad call response could be texted to thousands of potential customers in a matter of minutes.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why something like this happens all too often.

First on the list is that many business owners don’t even realize that it is happening. They don’t call their office and actually listen to how the telephone is being answered. They have not had anyone directly complain to them about the less-than-professional manner that is being used. They don’t have the foggiest notion that the people who they have entrusted to answer their business phone are not doing it properly. Plain and simple, they don’t know what they don’t know.

One suggestion would be to block your caller ID and, from time to time, call your office. Another approach is to have a friend call your office.

There are services that will record all of your business calls, which can give you complete, first-hand recordings of what and how your line is being answered. One caution here is to use it as an assessment and learning tool. If your staff is not answering the telephone properly, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to do it the right way. Do not penalize them for not possessing the knowledge and skill sets they should have possessed, or been taught, before they started answering the office line.

Once you have assessed the situation and see the need for improvement, create a checklist of what needs to happen when that lifeline to your future and present clients is answered. Some of the items you can include on that list for answering the telephone properly are:

•Maximum number of rings before call is answered.

•Which employees should answer it?

•Proper attitude.

•Tone of voice.

•Pace and tempo.

•Words and phrases used.

•Questions that should be asked.

•Next steps to be taken.

When it comes to the number of times a phone should be allowed to ring before answering, most experts would agree that between the second and third ring is about right. If you answer too quickly, it could surprise the customers calling in. If it is more than three rings, they may not wait for you to answer, assuming that no one is there or you are too busy for them.

As far as who should answer the phone, this is something you will want to strategize. Depending on the type of positions your employees hold, it may not be practical for everyone to be assigned telephone duty. The main thing is that the phone is answered promptly and courteously by a knowledgeable representative.

Regarding a proper attitude, tone of voice and pace, the person answering the phone should be pleasant and have the mindset of wanting to help the caller. A moderate pace and tempo is best—not rushed nor too slowly.

When it comes to the words used when answering your business line, there are a couple of ways to do it. One approach would be to use the following:

“Good afternoon, ABC Landscaping Company. This is Jeff speaking. How may I help you?” For some companies this will work fine. For others it might be a mouthful, especially if they have a long company name. If that is the case, another approach could be to use the following approach:

“RT Benson Lawn Care and Christmas Décor; this is Jeff.”

What this option offers is the ability to shorten the number of words used when answering the telephone.

What the person answering the phone does here is to eliminate the words “Good afternoon” and the words, “How may I help you.”

To compensate for this approach and give a professional impression, the person answering the telephone must make sure that they use a cheerful and upbeat inflection in their tone of voice when saying the words, “RT Benson Lawn Care and Christmas Décor.” This implies good morning.

When they complete the greeting with the words, “This is Jeff,” an inflection in the voice of the person answering the telephone should imply that he or she can help the person calling.

Your employees who answer the telephone should know which questions to ask and be well informed and competent, so they can assist the caller in getting what they need and want.

They should be well versed on which steps need to be taken to help the customer receive or begin receiving the service or products your company has to offer.

Of course, none of this happens by accident. Having a well-thought-out plan to train each and every employee is a must. If you skip this step, you are only asking for trouble. You will not get consistent quality from your team, who are responsible for answering your phone and giving a good first impression.

So, in summary, to make sure you and your team give a great first impression each and every time, take the time to train them on the proper way to answer the telephone. The results will speak for themselves with a happier client base and increased profits to your bottom line.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Borg works with small and mid-size green industry companies to improve customer acquisition and retention. For more information or to ask him a question, contact him at 734-404-5909 or email him at: tom@tomborg.com or visit his website at www.tomborgconsulting.com.