Lead the Way to Success Through Your Telephones
By Ken Keis.
As managers, we are required to efficiently and effectively utilize our technology, processes, and people. The various components in any organization must support the company’s values, vision, and beliefs. To learn how well your organization is doing, look to your telephones. Whether those phones are friend or foe is connected to your corporate values and beliefs.
- Does your current phone system make it easy for your customers to do business with you?
- Does your company have respect for your customer’s valuable time? What is the maximum amount of time that a customer should have to “wait on hold” for service?
- How much phone system-related stress is acceptable for your staff members to bear?
- Who is more important to your business: the customer the staff member is personally serving or the customer on the other end of the ringing phone?
In an ideal world…
- What is the maximum number of rings the customer should have to endure before the call was answered by a competent, knowledgeable person?
- How long should it take for a staff member to return a voicemail message from a customer?
Recently, one of our clients decided that voicemail would be the saviour for all of its telephone challenges. On the new voicemail system’s first day of operation, the business received more than 100 voicemail messages before noon. That created a customer service disaster. Almost all the strife was caused by a lack of strategy and planning by the management team.
Successful communication strategies don’t occur by accident; they happen by design—and that includes every aspect of your phone system and phone manner protocol.
Designing your strategies requires you to examine three areas. This process will also reveal your current values and beliefs in each sector.
This area involves investigating whether you have the correct telephone hardware and software to meet your needs.
- Can your people effectively use your current phone system? The best way to find out is to ask several staff members at random to show you how to transfer a call internally.
- Do some members of your staff have hands-free sets?
- Can you add more lines and extensions to your existing system?
- Is one particular staff member qualified as a “phone system guru,” to help train less knowledgeable staff members?
- Can your system be expanded to suit the growing needs of your business?
- Ask each staff member if his or her phones—and the way the phone system functions in general—are a help or a hindrance to doing the job properly. For example, ask if adding another phone extension would help them answer the phone more quickly. Where should the extension be placed, etc.?
Again, ask key questions.
- Start with the receptionist. When staff members go away on vacation, training sessions, or are off sick, does the receptionist know about their absence at the very beginning of their absence?
- Is the person who covers for the receptionist during lunch and break times a knowledgeable replacement?
- Are messages for staff picked up in a timely fashion?
- If you have a voice-mail system, does each staff person change his or her outgoing message daily?
- When one person’s telephone is not answered, what happens to the call? Does it ring back to the switchboard? How many calls are not answered because staff are busy serving customers, or are on the phone?
Once staff members are talking on the phone with customers, are staff skilled in knowing what to do?
- Telephone one of your sales consultants. Pretend to be a customer asking for information about a product your business provides. Your criterion for success here is: could the sales consultant convince you to make an appointment to see the product? (If your voice is easily recognized, ask someone else to conduct the phone call on your behalf while you listen to the way the call develops.)
- Call each of your salespeople, pretending you are a potential customer. Are the salespeople welcoming and forthcoming with information about the products? Most important: are they successful in getting you to want to visit your place of business?
- Using a fictitious name, call each of your managers and leave a message for him or her to call you back. How long does it take each to return your call?
Once you understand the way the people in your business are actually using your phone system, you will see where things can be improved. Four critical steps will help make the change permanent.
- Each department must establish a phone-improvement committee. It is important to also create a team to study the phone system as a whole. Teams should be comprised of staff, managers, and the general manager or principal. The involvement of the general manager is vital to the successful implementation of any changes. Without that involvement, the situation will soon slip back to the old, unsatisfactory way.
- Establish a technology group whose function is to understand how your phone technology works. This team should stay abreast of new developments that could impact your business, positively or negatively.
- Set up an ongoing training program for new and existing staff. New staff-member orientation should include the following.
- Comprehensive training in using your phone technology
- Education about the commitment of your business to return messages
- Ways to handle the situation of serving a customer vs. answering a ringing phone
At least annually, staff should have a refresher course on the use of the system. It is essential that staff members receive training specific to ways to best use the phone system to do their job.
- All the checking you just did to find out how your phone system is working for you—or is not working for you—must be done at least once a year. Share the results of your investigation with your people and have your people offer ideas for improvements to the technology and processes.
Long-term change requires commitment, effort, and monitoring.
Good leadership means inspecting what you expect.
Ken Keis is the president and CEO of Consulting Resource Group in Abbotsford, B.C. (www.crgleader.com). He can be reached at (604) 852-0566 or firstname.lastname@example.org.