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Winning Customers Over the Phone

By: Lydia Ramsey

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker, corporate trainer and author of Manners That Sell: Adding The Polish That Builds Profits.  She has been quoted or featured in The New York Times, Investors' Business Daily, Entrepreneur, Inc., Real Simple and Woman's Day.  For more information about her programs, products and services, e-mail  her at lydia@mannersthatsell.com or visit her web site http://www.mannersthatsell.com


Do you sometimes wonder where your customers have gone? In a study by the International Customer Research Institute, individuals gave the following reasons for becoming "non-repeat" customers:
  • 1 percent died (makes you wonder how they responded)
  • 3 percent moved
  • 5 percent said friendships
  • 9 percent said competition
  • 14 percent were dissatisfied with the product
  • 68 percent cited an attitude of indifference by employees
How many times do you think that employee attitude is communicated by phone? Very often the telephone is the first and only contact that people have with your organization. Make sure that this experience is the best you and your employees have to offer so that first-time callers become repeat customers.

Smile when you answer the phone. Even if your hair is on fire or the last caller chewed you out, pause for a moment to put a smile on your face and in your voice. Believe it or not, people can hear you smiling through the phone.

Answer the phone on the first ring, certainly no later than the third ring. If people have to wait through rings four and five, they begin to think that you have closed for the day, gone out of business or just don't care. We live in a world that expects instant gratification. Be sure you meet your customers' expectations.

Ask permission before you put someone on hold. You may have multiple lines ringing and a line of people standing at your desk, but wait to hear the caller's response. It is that person's choice to hold or not. Try not to turn this move into a power play. When you come back on the line, thank the person for holding. If you have to ask the caller to continue to hold, offer to take a number and return the call.

Transferring calls should be done with care. Before you connect the caller to someone else's extension, make sure that person is in and able to help. There is nothing more frustrating than being transferred over and over again and having to retell the same story to a multitude of different people before finding the right one.

Before you send the call to co-worker, give the caller that person's name and number in case there is a disconnect. Better yet, tell the caller who you are and how to reach you if there is a problem. You will have an extremely satisfied customer.

Always make an offer of help. It may not be your department, your issue or your job, but if it is the customer's problem, you need to show concern. Never tell the caller " 'I don't know'" or "I can't help you." The best response to a problem is a genuine "Let me see what I can do or who I can find to help you."

You will win customers and influence people every time when you use good phone skills.

© copyright 2005, Lydia Ramsey. All rights reserved.

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