First Impressions and Customer Service on the Telephone

When we think of customer service, how often do we focus on the very first impression that our customer gets?

Many customers still prefer to telephone organisations rather than contact them online and yet many businesses pay more attention to their websites than to the way their customers are welcomed on the phone. They place more emphasis on the home page on their website or how their shop window or reception area looks than how they sound on the telephone.

This is not just important for those people who handle the traditional switchboard, but for those with direct lines that take incoming calls, those who receive calls that have been directed by an automated service and calls that are transferred internally.

I have trained many people in customer service over the years and it always surprises me how few businesses have telephone customer service standards or guidelines and instead leave it to common sense. In my experience common sense is not always common practise and is rarely best practise.

When training a group recently, one participant complained that she was always receiving calls for a taxi company on her direct line and that these callers would get quite upset when she was unable to provide them with a taxi. I then discovered that she only answers the phone with her name and not the company name – no wonder the callers were confused!

When deciding how to answer the phone it helps to consider what questions the caller might need answered during the first few seconds, such as:

1. Have I got through to the right company?
2. Have I got through to the right department?
3. Who am I speaking to and can they help me?
4. How professional are they?
5. How helpful are they?
6. How interested are they in me as a customer?

In all of this we need to remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It is very easy to tick all these boxes for the customer simply and quickly by following these five simple guidelines:

1. Number of rings – it is generally accepted that the phone should be answered within three rings. Plenty of technology is available now for phones to be answered from elsewhere in the office if the main call handler is busy on another call or is absent.
Answering the phone quickly demonstrates how important your customers are to you.
2. Greeting – offering a greeting such as “Good morning”, Good afternoon” or “Thank you for calling” shows how professional, helpful and customer-focussed you are.
3. Who you are – announcing the name of your business and/or the department as well as your own name confirms that the caller is through to the right place. By giving your own name helps your customer to feel that they will be treated as an individual and, as we know, ‘people buy from people’. It is better to say “This is Jacqueline Harris” than to say “Jacqueline Harris speaking” as in the second example the caller will hear the last word (speaking) more clearly than the previous ones.
4. Offer of help – state an offer of help right at the beginning of the call. This shows that you are being proactive rather than reactive and that you want to help.
5. Tone of voice – your tone of voice is just as important as the words you say. Having made countless calls to businesses over the years, there is a big difference between those that genuinely sound pleased to answer the phone, welcoming and willing to help and those who sound like it is the hundredth time they have answered the phone today or that they just don’t care.

It really is true that the caller can tell when you are smiling. When we smile, our facial muscles move which in turn affects the tone of our voice. So remember to smile when you answer the phone.
All of this happens in just a few seconds and here are a couple of examples that you might like to adapt to your own business situation:

Thank you for calling Breath of Fresh Air this is Jacqueline Harris. How can I help you?

Good morning/afternoon Breath of Fresh Air. My name is Jacqueline Harris and how can I help you?

Remember that if you are the person answering the telephone, then your behaviour throughout the call will be read as the attitude of your organisation.

We are all in the Customer Service team.

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