“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — Western Union internal memo, 1876.
We’ve come a long way since 1876, especially when it comes to the way we use the telephone to conduct business. According to Infoplease.com, a Web site that provides research information, by the end of the ’90s, the value of goods and services sold by telephone had reached $150 billion in the United States and $750 billion worldwide. Here’s how you can turn more incoming telephone calls into sales.
Use Good Phone Etiquette When your phone rings, answer it with an enthusiastic response. And when the caller asks for information, continue the enthusiasm. “Sure, I’d love to help you!” Your phone presence immediately determines the direction of the phone call. “Have a positive presence right off the bat,” says Randy Tooker, owner of Lake Forest Limousine in Lake Forest, Calif. “Be as positive and helpful as you can be.”
Tooker says this small effort can be the deciding factor in your getting the business instead of your competitor down the street who is having a bad morning and takes it out on the caller.
Always Assume the Sale Jim Luff, owner of The Limousine Scene in Bakersfield, Calif., calls it “assuming the sale.” Luff always operates under the assumption that if a person is calling limousine companies, they must have some interest in renting a limousine, and at that moment, it’s up to the salesperson to make the sale. “I believe it’s our job to sell our company, as opposed to selling them on our prices,” Luff explains. “We don’t compromise our price, and we are not the lowest-priced limousine company in Bakersfield.”
Explain Why Your Company Stands Out From the Rest If Luff senses that the caller is price-shopping, he gives the name of his main competitor and advises the caller to contact them. He also tells the caller that his price is a few dollars higher than the competition. “I tell them that I can’t explain the small price difference, except that my company has extensive training programs for our drivers, vehicle maintenance programs, and there’s a certain overhead involved in operating the business to maintain the level of professionalism that we feel our clients expect,” he says. “I also tell them that the competitor I’m referring them to would be the only company that we would recommend.”
Often, Luff ends up taking the order at that moment. “I think it’s almost saying to them, ‘Hey, I’m so confident that we’re the best that I don’t mind if you call my competition.’”
Ask Questions to Identify the Caller’s Need It’s one thing to quote an hourly rate for transportation, and another to ask probing questions to determine the occasion and specific need. Luff encourages his reservations staff to ask questions and follow up with corresponding recommendations.
“When a customer calls and says, ‘I want to get a limousine to go to dinner,’ we ask, ‘Is it a special occasion?’” Luff says. “If the caller says, ‘Yes, it’s our 10th anniversary,’ we tell them about our romantic packages that include dinner and flowers. One package even includes a suite at a local hotel. When they say, yes, we have just upped the sale from the two-hour dinner to a longer night with a higher profit margin.”
For a birthday celebration, Tooker tells callers about the helium tank he has on the premises for birthday balloons, napkins, banners — all of which are complimentary for birthday celebrations.
Sometimes situations arise when suggesting a special package would ultimately reduce revenue, but Luff’s company takes pride in matching packages to customers’ needs, regardless of revenue.
“For example, someone calls and asks how much it costs to rent a limousine for eight hours,” Luff says. “As you start taking the reservation, you ask them where they are going, and they say they are attending a concert at the Staples Center. We have an L.A. Concerts & Sporting Events Package that is $395, which results in about a $200 savings for the customer. I tell the customer that I’m going to put them under that plan instead.”
Determine the best rate or package deal, and let the caller know you are doing just that.
“I think that’s more important than trying to get the most money out of the client,” Luff says. “I’m going to get a whole lot more money out of somebody who keeps coming back eight or nine times a year than the guy I’m going to stab one time.”
Create Packages Based on Customers’ Needs “We’re in Bakersfield, so we almost have to create reasons and places to go,” Luff admits. “For years, everybody in Bakersfield had a three-hour rental period. You can be anywhere in Bakersfield in 25 minutes. So I guess that means you can’t get a limousine to go to the airport, right? We created an airport rate, which is pretty low, and it’s based on the fact that we know that people are going to be in the vehicle for usually no more than 20 minutes. So we’re somewhere above a taxicab and below the cost of renting a limousine for an hour.”
According to Luff, this approach baffled his competition, and they didn’t see the point in doing a run for one hour. The idea still has not caught on with any of Limousine Scene’s competitors. However, Luff maintains there is a healthy need for this rate and he receives calls for it every day. He’s built a new package and now has the market.
Provide Training and Use a Script Every new hire at The Limousine Scene spends several days sitting with an experienced reservationist before they answer any calls themselves.
“We don’t start them out on the phone right away because the rate structures we offer are so immense,” Luff says.
New hires get a detailed binder that includes everything from rates to donation and sponsorship requests. “My point in training is not that you learn everything in our binder, but that you learn where to retrieve the information.”
Tooker has small notepads with his basic script format available as reminders for himself and his staff. His new hires will often sit near him and listen to his presentation as they are learning the ropes.
Using a script keeps your staff on point but will also act as a reminder so they don’t miss any essential questions. “We use the same basic script every time,” Luff says.
Encourage On-site Visits Invite prospective customers to take a look at your operation. Tooker knows that in this business, many times customers want to see clean cars before they put money down. This is his chance to show off the amenities and cleanliness of his vehicles. “I invite them to come down and meet me, see my entire fleet, the office, everything,” he says. “With that, we either book them, or they call around a little more and get the typical ‘muffled greeting and lukewarm phone response,’ and then they call back to book with us.”
Tooker encourages callers to always ... for more on this topic, see the January issue of LCT magazine.