You are focusing on your website, your finances, your employees, your customers, and your brand and hoping you can make good decisions every time.
Unfortunately, with all the directions small business owners are pulled, it can be difficult to put enough time and attention into branding. However, branding is one of the most important aspects or your business and can have a great deal to do with the first impression you give your prospective customers.
A big component of a first impression is how you answer the phone when a prospect calls your business. Many small businesses try to get by on the cheap with a less-than-professional phone system and unfortunately this can damage first impressions. Here are some things I see a lot that can be problematic.
1. Using your cell phone number as your business phone number. Even if you are a solopreneur, this is not a good idea. Everybody can tell when they are calling a cell phone, especially when it goes to voice mail and gives a standard mobile voicemail greeting. It gives an amateurish impression to callers and signals that you are a one-man shop. There is nothing wrong with being a one-man shop but drawing attention to it in this way is not ideal.
2. Answering the phone with “hello?” and nothing else. If I’m calling a business, I expect the person answering the phone to say the business name followed by a professional greeting. If I’m calling a direct line or have just been transferred, it’s fine to leave out the business name but I would expect to hear the person answer by name. It’s professional courtesy and helps set the right tone for a business conversation.
3. A “general” voice mail box. When you call a business and no one answers, do you sometimes get a “general” voice mail box and no other options? Do you trust that leaving a message will result in a response? Neither do I. First off, get a receptionist (or a good virtual receptionist service). The best case scenario is that callers will get a real person every time. If you don’t have a receptionist, at least offer an auto-attendant that will let the caller find the right person to leave a message for.
4. A line that does not accept voice mail. This is even worse than the “general” voice mail box. Occasionally when I call a business and no one answers, I will be sent to a greeting that tells me not to leave a voice mail because it will not be checked. Really? This is just plain rude. Everyone is busy and if I have to make time to call back in hopes of reaching someone, I’m likely to move on. I’ve found that medical offices are frequently guilty of this.
5. A cheap VoIP service. Voice over IP is great and has come a long way. However, it can still cause some issues in voice quality and can create a noticeable delay in two-way conversation, as well. For this reason, it’s not ideal to rely on Skype, Google Voice, or other free services for primary business lines. If you’re going to go the VoIP route, it’s better to invest in a professional VoIP solution that will give you clear audio and reliability. Few things are more frustrating than trying to close a business deal while struggling to communicate with your customer over unreliable phone lines.
It doesn’t take much effort to create a professional phone experience for your callers but it can make a big impact on the first impressions they have when calling. At SpinWeb, we’ve found that a great team of receptionists + iPhones works well for us. It pays to think about how professional your business sounds when someone calls.