Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Smile: They Can Hear You!

by Rose Strong

Furia Rubel Communications is all about getting a message out.  In our efforts to do this we use a combination of integrated marketing strategies and tactics including social media, website optimization, video sharing, public relations, business development and many electronic methods for getting a client’s point across to the right audience. However, the telephone is often the first line of interaction we or any business may have with their clients, prospects and partners.
Before the term arborist came into fashion, my father was a tree surgeon. While I was growing up, he had his own business. During my formative years we lived in a home where we had two telephones, a house line and a business line. This was before there were multiline phones for home use. Each phone had a different ring and to make sure answering was speedy, we had one of each on the two floors of our home and a business phone line in our barn.

From a very young age, I was taught proper phone etiquette and how to professionally answer a call. It was drilled into my sister and me that we were the gatekeepers for our father’s business, so there was no tolerance for being anything other than pleasant and courteous on the telephone. In drafting this post, I found a resource from Lehigh University’s Library & Technology Services which is a great reference and includes many of the same things I learned from my parents regarding proper phone etiquette . The resource also details proper decorum when using voice mail.

With an upbringing like this, I have little patience for someone at the other end of the phone to sound anything other than polite and interested. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need chipper or grossly over-the-top, sickeningly cheerful, but keep the monotone sound, sighing and irritation as if I’m a huge bother  for another time, perhaps when the boss calls.

This early training provided needed skills when I entered the ranks of the employed as a teenager and worked in a flower shop while studying floriculture and horticulture in high school. It was retail sales and just as this blog explains: every customer was your best customer, so make them feel that way.

In a career change about 15 years ago, I began working for a national health insurance company as a customer service professional. Notice the title doesn’t say representative. We were, of course representing the company whose phones we were answering, but they wanted us to see ourselves as professionals. The “we”’ I speak of is the class of 19 who participated in a three-month training program together before being set loose in the tank with the piranhas. Besides learning the details of health insurance, the company’s computer systems and how to actually work the telephones, our class was taught how to answer the phones properly.

Of course we had a script, but one of the things they strongly impressed upon us was to smile while talking, it could be heard by the caller and the simple act could make an otherwise difficult call turn into a pleasant experience. Dealing with health issues and money is volatile, so any trick to tame a dragon was worth it. And after seven years at the job, it was true. I’m not advocating a full-on open-face grin, but just upturned lips can help you sound happy, interested and helpful, which is what the person on the other end wants to hear after often going through a circle of automated menus. Knowing they’ve reached someone who cares often soothes the savage beast.

Marketing and communications often starts with the ring of a telephone. A company can market with all sorts of online promotions today with sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, website and branding campaigns and email marketing, but if you don’t give that old-fashioned customer service during the first few moments of that initial phone call, you’ve lost them. So, put a smile in your voice, callers can hear it and it really does make all the difference.

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