~by Christine Schoaff~
You have a wonderful idea for a service or product and you’re ready to hang out your shingle, delight your customers and start making the world a better place.
Terrific… as you may know there are important steps you need to take to create a functional business. Usually, these activities are lumped together under the name of operations. This includes things such as paying employees, receiving phone calls from customers, ordering and tracking inventory, billing customers for services or goods.
In this post, I’ll give you some background for telephone operations:
• Numbers: You need a phone number that is unique to your business. Generally, a local number is enough. You only need a toll free number if you feel that it is an important aspect of your branding or a substantial value to your clients. When long distance phone calls were expensive, then a toll free number was a valuable differentiator. Since you print the phone number(s) on your marketing materials, decide early if you want just a local or both a local and toll free number. Changing printed materials later is costly. Remember that printed materials that have already been handed out can’t be changed! It is easier to add another number than to remove one.
• Equipment: You can use your home phone or your cell phone for business purposes. If you do either, you will want to be careful to provide a professional response to all callers. You can also purchase a land-line and phone or VOIP phone specifically for office use. Sometimes a second number and ring tone is available for a fee on your current home phone service. The most important thing about the equipment you choose to use is that the call quality is high and available. If you can’t hear what your clients are saying or your call drops when you are talking to them, delighting your customer will be almost impossible!
• Telephone services: There are many different internet based telephone service providers who will forward calls from one phone number to another. You can use this to have a business phone number that rings to an office phone, a home phone or a cell phone. Often, these services have scheduling features to route calls to specific locations at different times of day. They can also set up extensions. If you use these services, be sure to have friends and family help you test the service. You want to know what your customers will experience when they call in. Things to pay attention to include: How many rings does the client hear before your phone rings? How long will the client hear rings before the system goes to voice mail or plays a message? Generally, there are many configuration settings in these systems, so my advice is that you try different things and see what you feel is best for your customers. Services provide logging so you can see how many calls came in and what happened to each. This is important information for you to review regularly. If your phone service configuration is getting in the way of talking with customers, then change it!
• Telephone answering: This is the most important part of your telephone operations! Be sure that someone answers the phone professionally and as quickly as practical during business hours. Answering after hours if fine also if you can do that professionally. Often, customers will call companies until they talk to a live person. Many will not leave messages. You should plan to review messages and respond daily! Growing your business means keeping communications open with current customers and providing an opportunity to acquire new customers. When you are busy with a customer, you can let them know that you will take a call briefly or you can hire an assistant to be sure that all calls are answered while you focus on other tasks.
When you are running a business, communicating with your customers is a core function. Consider how your telephone services help you to help your customers so you can delight them. Pay attention to the customer experience and you will have a strong foundation to build on!
Meet the Author: Christine Schoaff
Christine Schoaff has been an entrepreneur and intrapreneur in opportunities from start-up to mid-size to Fortune 500. She has worked extensively with family run businesses in a variety of industries.