Are the People Answering Your Phone Silently Killing Your Business?

The Four Steps To Better Customer Representation

“ABC Widget Company…How can we make you smile today?”

Well at least that is how you drew it up in the training session: Gather the information, get the caller to the right department and create another happily involved customer.

If you happen to be a smaller firm, you might say something akin to “Dan’s plumbing, no job is too small…” But what usually happens?

The Quad State Business Journal interviewed a couple of the business coaches and consultants who supply the unbranded (company not mentioned) services for the Quad State Business Solution Network ( to gain some insight.

JoAnn, a business coach recommended by QSBJ’s publisher, tells us the tradespeople are among the toughest clients to straighten out when they get off on the wrong foot with a caller.  She says that it usually happens when they are most busy and can least afford not to win friends and influence would-be customers.

“Look, just because we are a plumbing company, that doesn’t mean we have to take any crap that we don’t want. Especially from people like you!”

Yes, she says that was actually uttered, not by the owner but by a ‘receptionist’ of a growing plumbing firm. She tells of the owner’s spouse overhearing part of the conversation and could not believe her ears. So she asked the receptionist what happened and to repeat what she said.

The receptionist very proudly went over what the caller said and wanted and what she said. She repeated what she said verbatim. Again, she was very proud that she didn’t let the caller bad-mouth her employer.

“I think she was even looking for a raise,” the owner’s spouse reported to JoAnne, the business coach. She was a very loyal employee who always got there on time and rarely left early except for family emergencies.  Their receptionist came from a hard background and was very pleased to have ‘an important job’ as she had with the plumbing firm.

But can the other type of customer response be just as deadly?

Talking back to a customer, of course, is never acceptable. In the above case, the would-be customer had actually cursed at the receptionist and things just went downhill from there.  

But what about when a customer calls and the receptionist or whomever is on the other end hardly utters anything more than yea or nea in response to a would-be customer contact? One thing for sure, customers, virtually any customers, look for education and strokes in knowing that they are about to make the right buying decision.

Think of the surgeon who takes more time than you feel they should to educate you on your upcoming surgery vs. one that merely skims the surface saying, “I’ve done over 2,000 of these kinds of procedures…piece of cake.” It is no different with a plumber, an accountant, a house cleaner or any number of businesses. People want to be educated on what they are about to purchase.

   Steps To Better CSR behavior

We may not be able to define good customer service representative (CSR) behavior, but we know it when we see it. Here are some tips that some of our Quad State service providers suggest.

1.  Answer the phone by the third ring–at least

Many business owners, and even tradespeople, answer their phone on the first ring. The idea is not to be out of breath (if you are in the field working) or look upon a ringing phone as an annoyance.

2.  Make the caller feel as if he or she is the most important person in the world

Because, right now, they are! This may seem like you have seen this message before, but it is of such good business sense it is a shame so many businesses are not profiting from this skill. There is a definite culture shift in the world that sometimes employees really do feel like they are a giving you the privilege of giving them a paycheck. And that attitude carries over to a customer. We even have direct knowledge of a person who answered a phone, telling the caller that they just interrupted their game of Bejeweled! And they were serious.

3.  Always train smiling as you talk

This goes for you as the owner right across the board to even the sometime answerer of your office phone. There really is scientific evidence that it takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. We know of the engineer owner of a mid-sized Quad State engineering firm whom people cannot remember he wasn’t smiling–except when some installer read his blueprints incorrectly. Many of both inbound and outbound telephone centers even have mirrors by the representatives’ desks.

4.  Empathy with the caller

The perfect compliment to smiling as you talk is empathy with what the caller is saying. Not feigned empathy or feeling sorry, but being first a good listener and understanding what the caller is saying. This means repeating back the issue, even if it is 180 degrees out of phase or even if the caller thought they were talking to your competitor. This is where ‘being a good listener’ has as a solid outcome. The phone person should be part office support, part customer support and part psychologist as well. 

These four steps have many other options and addendums to them. If you have three or more phone operators, it would be a good thing to consider putting them through a local, custom (meaning your company only) phone etiquette course. You can even outsource such a course. You should start by calling the Quad State outsourcing resource in the Business Solution Network to see if they can provide a direction for your training.

Taking your outsourcing seriously means taking your outcome seriously as well.


The Quad State outsource resource






About Jill Sommers

Jill is a trainer's trainer. In fact she has led several train-the-trainer sessions at national conferences in years past.

She has also enjoyed being both a keynote (plenary) and breakout session speaker. She enjoys leading small group discussions for start up entrepreneurs and those newly retired but wanting to keep busy.

Jill at times works with Steve Lanning in his education and awareness campaigns of elder fraud and elder financial exploitation program. Jill easily fits into many different audiences from business to seniors to hobbyists.

Reach Jill at

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