Pay Attention to Phone Voices on All Calls

LCT Staff
Posted on January 1, 2004

Are Incoming Calls: * Answered with a smile * Answered within three rings * Greeted with “good morning,” “good afternoon” or “good evening” * Greeted with “Thank you for calling (company name). My name is (first/last name). How may I be of service?”

Do the People Answering Your Phones: * Use the client’s name whenever possible * Listen to callers’ true needs (don’t interrupt) and don’t just offer price * Sound like an expert; never say “I don’t know” * Ask first before placing anyone on hold, and only if you absolutely must * Check back if callers are on hold for more than two minutes * Ask for the sale * Explain why the lowest price isn’t necessarily the best deal * Repeat the reservation information back to the caller * Give a confirmation number * Close with “thank you for calling (business name). We appreciate your business. Don’t hesitate to call us with any further requests.”

It’s 4 on a Saturday afternoon and the office at “Ajax Limousine Service” is in chaos. One chauffeur is stuck in traffic and the wedding party is waiting. The reservations agent called in sick and the dispatcher is late for his shift. Yet, when the phone rings for the eleventh time in the past half hour, the office manager picks it up, smiles and in a calm, friendly voice says, “Hello, thank you for calling Ajax Limousine Service. My name is John Doe. How may I be of service?”

Get real!

Most operators need a reminder – if not a knock on the head – that it is imperative that callers are always greeted in a professional manner and made to feel welcome. Otherwise, they risk making a negative first impression, and the caller is likely to take his business elsewhere.

Every limousine operator in business in today’s highly competitive market knows this. But the reality is different. LCT routinely calls a lot of operators we more than once have been greeted with a tired “so-and-so Limousine,” “limousine service” or simply a brisk and anonymous “hello.”

At best, the person answering the phone said, “Thank you for calling … Limousine. How may I help you?”

This last example simply shouldn’t be good enough. Ultimately, telephone etiquette comes down to customer service and sales so your standards should be set high.

How do you get there?

You can begin by teaching your employees the value of customer service and proper telephone etiquette. And ultimately – here’s the real goal – how that can be translated into sales.

From day one, teach your employees that providing great customer service is imperative to succeed in this industry. And make them understand the concept and philosophy behind customer service rather than just tell them what it is.

All employees can answer a phone, but only those who truly value the importance of customer service can make the person on the other side of the phone line feel like they are truly being listened to and taken care of.

If your employees really believe that providing excellent customer service is the No. 1 goal at all time, answering the phones in a sought-after fashion – and, hence, making that sale – will not seem forced but natural, even under stressful conditions.

Calls = Sales = Revenue

Always remember that the underlying reason for providing great customer service and using proper telephone techniques is to sell your service to callers.

And with most business in this industry coming from incoming calls, doing it well it more than validates the time and effort you should spend on telephone selling techniques.

There is no “secret to selling” or a “magic formula for selling over the phone,” says Chris Engen, vice president of sales at Carson, Calif.-based Rhinotek Computer Products, who admits to selling over the phone since 1976.

But using suggestive selling, and staying persistent and enthusiastic at all times are just two of things you can do to improve your chances of making a sale, he says.

“The more enthusiastic you are about what you’re doing and the better job you do of presenting that,” the greater are your chances of making a sale, he says, adding that you always should sound really friendly, bright and bubbly.

And make sure you ask for the business, Engen advises. “If you don’t ask, they are probably not going to give it to you.”

But the No. 1 thing operators should do to improve their chances of closing sales, he says, is to have a written telephone script they can follow during each and every call.

Script the Path to Success

“Some people call them presentations, some people call them scripts, but the idea is to have something written out [in] bullet points so that when you are trying to lead the customer to a buying decision, you are doing it pretty much the same way each time,” Engen says. “Mention the things you want [the callers] to hear, then lead the conversation into some kind of closing question.”

A script will prove especially handy when in a stressful situation, since even the best of operators or employees can sometimes lose track of goals if under the gun. Keeping a script at hand at all times can help bring you or your employees back on track.

The script should outline what you want the person answering the phone – whether that be you or someone else – to say and do while with a potential client; it should guide you from the first ring to the time you hang up. It can be as detailed or specific as you wish.

After interviewing Engen and some particularly telephone etiquette-savvy operators, and checking with representatives at some highly customer service-oriented hospitality companies, we have come up with the following points that a telephone script should include to be the most effective:

* Answer with a smile: Always smile before picking up the phone. Whoever is on the line will be able to hear that in your voice and a positive atmosphere is created up front.

Smiling when answering the phone also eliminates any disinterest your may have or the temptation to take out any aggression on the caller.

* Answer within three rings: Letting the phone ring for any longer time signals to potential clients that nobody is available to or perhaps even interested in their business.

Always view every single phone call as your only call – and every single client as your only client – because you just don’t know who might be on the other end or what business they might bring you until you.

* Greet with “good morning,” “good afternoon” or “good evening:” These salutations offer a warmer, more sincere touch than simply saying “hello.”

* Say, “Thank you for calling (company name). My name is (first and last name). How may I be of service?:” Thanking callers lets them know you realize they have other options and that you appreciate their interest in your company.

Providing the name of the business also lets them know they have called the right place.

Using your first and last name puts you on a personal, yet professional basis with callers, helping establish rapport and making it easier to close the sale. It also makes for a more effective process if clients call back; they can ask for the person they spoke to the first time.

In addition, according to the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain’s philosophy on customer service, it is more professional to say “how may I be of service?” than to say “how may I help you?” It also lets the callers know that they have called a business that values customer service – something they are likely to value.

* Use the client’s name: Try using the client’s name as many times as possible for the same reasons you provide your own name; it adds a personal touch and establishes rapport.

But remember to stay professional: “Mr. Jones” is acceptable, but “Bob” isn’t (unless, of course, you know the client well).

* Listen to callers’ true needs (don’t interrupt) and don’t just offer price: You will never be able to answer their requests in satisfactory ways if you do not take the time to figure out what they are calling about.

“Probably the most important thing we teach [our reservations agents] is to read the personality of the person they’re dealing with, as well as to identify the person’s needs,” says Larry Price, president and CEO of San Antonio’s Price Limousine and Transportation.

By listening carefully to the callers, you might be able to direct them in another direction should the services they are asking about not be the best for their situations. And you just might be able to make a better sale that way.

* Sound like an expert; never say “I don’t know:” Stay informed on your business. And include in the training of your telephone personnel general information about the company so they are too.

Have information about the company at hand, or, even better, the company Web site active at all times, so that you quickly can look up the answers to whatever the callers might throw your way without having to place them on hold.

However, should you be completely stuck on a question, it is better to place the callers on hold and say “please let me find out,” than to say “I don’t know” (or to make up an answer).

* Ask first before placing anyone on hold, and only if you absolutely must: “Try very hard to not place [callers] on hold, unless [they] have requested someone in particular,” says Julie Herring, president of Julie’s Limousines and Coachworks in Clearwater, Fla.

“Very rarely do we put someone on hold to grab another line,” she adds, explaining it is better to complete the call you currently have on hand and let an answering system or someone else take care of the other call. That way, at least you have one satisfied client instead of two who feel halfway ignored by your switching back and forth between them.

* Check back if callers are on hold for more than two minutes: Don’t keep anyone on hold for more than two minutes; they’ll feel ignored.

“We have a ring back on our phone set at 15 seconds so it rings right back to you,” Herring says.

“Make sure they’d like to continue to hold or ask if [someone] could call them back,” says Michael Dozier, owner of Signature Limousine Service in Nashville, Tenn.

Also, make sure callers have something of value to listen to while on hold. “No one likes to stay on hold, and music or announcements about what [the] company has to offer makes the time pass,” Dozier says.

In addition, you might as well take advantage of the situation if you do have to put them on hold. “It gives us another opportunity to sell our service,” Herring says. “We talk about the wedding service that we provide, and the additional things that we do.

However, Price cautions operators about getting too pushy with their on-hold sales pitches.

“They are already speaking with us so we don’t need to advertise more,” he says. “We think music probably will pass the time more casually and comfortably.”

* Ask for the sale: “One of the best techniques that we use to book the sale is simply say ‘can I make that reservation for you now?’” Herring says. “We also ask if we can handle their transportation not only locally but that if they have a need for out-of-state as well. Most clients are excited to find out you can do that for them, so that’s always a good close.”

Adds phone sales expert Engen, “If you are very nice and very persistent and give them a few more reasons why they should pick you over the competition, and then ask for the business again, very often they will either tell you what’s really holding them back [from your company] so you can work on that. Or, they say yes.”

* Explain why the lowest price isn’t necessarily the best deal: If you ask for the sale and the callers tell you no because they received a lower quote from another company, don’t just let it pass as a failed sale – explain what they may be giving up for that lower price,

“We always point out that we may not be the low-price provider in our area, but that we certainly are value driven; [that] we supply more value for the dollar,” Herring says. [We say] we’re the only company in the area that carries $2 million in liability insurance, all of our chauffeurs are drug tested … that the oldest car that we are running right now is a 2002.

“You try to make sure that they are comparing an apple to an apple,” she continues. “We point out that [they] need to call back [your competitor] and find out what year their car is, what kind of insurance they carry, do they drug test their chauffeurs, do they have uniforms, are they consistent across the board. Usually you find out that they are comparing an apple to an orange, and that is a good sale.”

* Repeat the reservation information back to the caller: Time, day, date, occasion, address, contact name and phone number, any special requests, and the like must be verified. The effort you put into making the sale is wasted if the car go to the wrong place at the wrong time.

* Give a confirmation number: Even small operators should make a habit of assigning a confirmation number to each reservation because it makes it easier to keep track of the booking. Also, providing a conformation number might help disguise that your company is small.

* Close with “thank you for calling business name). We appreciate your business. Don’t hesitate to call us with any further requests:” Again, let callers know that you realize they have other options and appreciate that they have called your company. This should be practiced even if they don’t book with you; you never know if they might call you again or perhaps tell someone about your company.

Answering machines: Friend or foe?

“Callers are immediate buyers. They want an immediate response in order to make a decision and there’s no dollar value you could put on having a live voice being there to answer your call,” says Herring, who weighs in against the use of answering machines.

Most people do want to talk to a person, not a recording, because there are questions and needs that can only be answered and met by a conversation, adds Larry Price.

Yet, small operators might lack the resources to have a person available to answer their business phone 24/7 and might need to use voice mail or answering machines. Such options are, without doubt, better than having a one-car operator answer a call on his cell phone while with another client.

When recording a message, remember that you don’t have to let the callers know your company is small. Have someone with a good phone voice record a message that gives an illusion of a large company.

Begin by stating the name of your company. Then say that all operators are busy. Even if you are not a 24/7 operation, you don’t want to let the callers think their messages will sit in the machine’s inbox for a long time.

Next, ask the callers for relevant information, such as their name, phone number, time of call and a brief message. And thank them for calling.

To help create the illusion of a large company, small operators might give the callers options like, “for customer service, touch 1; for sales, touch 2; for reservations, touch 3, etc., and leave a message at the beep.” The callers might never know that there is just one person returning the calls for each message box.

Equally as important as recording a quality message – and make sure it is on a quality machine – is making sure the messages are being returned in a timely manner. Create a system in which employees continuously check the machine.

A good alternative to an answering machine is an answering service. There are several companies that can answer your phones at various costs when no one is available. They offer trained telephone personnel who can be as specific as you wish and all you need to do is call in and check your messages with them.

There are several varieties of services available, from 24/7 live answering to back-up receptionists that pick up the calls your reservationist cannot handle.

“In the evening, we have a service that picks up, but if you push zero then you get a live person. So if you want to wait at 3 o’clock in the morning, you can get one,” Julie Herring says. “It’s an answering service and it’s all fully automated. At the end of the evening, we call forward into it and it just tells [callers] to press zero [to] get the dispatcher.”

Check your local phone book or the Internet for answering service companies.

Transferring a call to another extension

When callers ask to speak with a specific person, always take down the callers’ name and ask what the call is about before transferring them to the right extension.

If that person is unavailable, ask if there is something you can help the callers with or if they would like to be connected with the person’s voice mailbox. If taking down a message, note the callers’ name, phone number, reason for and time of calling, and whether they want the person to call them back.

The customer is always right

At one point or another every limousine company – however successful – will have to deal with an angry caller. It’s therefore a good idea to have a “how to deal with angry callers” policy for when and if it happens since you handle irate phone calls has the potential to make your company stand out in a positive way.

At Price Limousine and Transportation, “[An angry caller] is immediately referred to a supervisor or manager,” Larry Price says. “And if there is not one immediately available, we have people in the office that are very capable of handling the request. Still, if the person wants to go on up the ladder and talk to someone at a higher management level, [Price’s office staff] know to immediately notify someone who will then immediately call this person.”

Never fight back when disgruntled clients call. Instead, maintain a calm tone and politely ask what the problem is and what solution the callers expect. If you cannot accommodate their request, let the callers know what the company can do to help.

If the callers continue to be rude even after you have tried to cooperate, kindly let them know you don’t think your company can be of service, and thank them for calling. This gesture shows that you appreciate their interest and the opportunity to serve them.

Sample On-Hold Message:

If you must place callers on hold, give them something of value to listen to. And you might want to take advantage of that time by telling them more about your company. The following is an example of what an on-hold message could sound like. It could easily be customized.

Remember, this message would play on a loop so keep your callers on hold only for a limited time.

Thank you for calling “XYZ Limousine.” All our reservation agents are currently helping other customers. Please hold and the next available agent will be with you momentarily.

(Pause/five seconds of music)

At “XYZ,” we continue to add new services and enhancements daily. Our state-of-the-art operating system is the finest in the industry, automating every step from the moment you book your reservation to the time you receive your invoice.

(Pause/five seconds of music)

Need transportation in your destination city? Through “Everywhere Limo,” our international network, we now provide the same exceptional level of service in cities across the country and around the world. Please visit “www.xyzlimo.com” to find out more or book your transportation online.

(Pause/five seconds of music)

For your convenience, “XYZ” is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We accept all major credit cards. Our diverse fleet consists of Cadillac and Lincoln sedans, stretch limousines, corporate SUVs, shuttle vans and custom motorcoaches. Please stop by “www.xyzlimo.com” to view our selection of vehicles, find out more about our menu of services or book transportation online.

(Pause/five seconds of music)

Thank you for calling. We apologize for the delay. Please continue to hold and one of our agents will be right with you.

(Pause/five seconds of music)

“XYZ Limousine” is your corporate travel solution. Whether you require transportation for a single passenger or a group of 1,000, we will fulfill all of your ground transportation needs. We offer travel coordination, meet-and-greet airport services, employee shuttles and a shared-ride program that will save you money.

(Pause/five seconds of music)

Entertaining a client and need reliable, discreet service? Your road to professional transportation starts here. Please continue to hold. We’re only moments away from assisting you.

Source: Innovative Marketing Concepts, (877) 462-1408, www.limomarketing.com.

Related Topics: customer service, telephone etiquette

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