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Phone Calls That Lose Customers

Earlier this year I joined the many throngs of people who gave up their land line. No “home phone” for me. The one true regret I have is that I hate filling out all those forms where they ask for home, business, and cell numbers. Since I use my cellphone as my home phone and for business, which line should I fill out?

What I don’t miss is the extra bill for the land line, or having to check two voice mails each day.

Image result for on holdThe cellphone has one handy feature that I almost dread using. It tells me how long I have been on the phone, especially how long I have been on hold.

It is amazing to me that in this day and age any phone call would be put on hold for as long as some of my calls have been. I do understand that some tech support places just get a much higher volume of calls than they can find English speakers (and I use that term loosely) to answer the phones.

What I really don’t understand is how long I have been put on hold at retail stores. Not that I won’t shop online, but whenever possible I want to do my shopping in brick & mortar stores. I like going to really cool stores. I like seeing how others operate. I love when local stores are knocking it out of the park. I get some of my best post ideas from shopping trips.

I spend more time on my computer and cellphone looking up phone numbers of stores than looking up products. I know I’m not alone, either.

But yesterday I felt the kind of frustration that drives people to the Internet to do their shopping. I called a store with a simple request to see if they had an item in stock. I even had an item number for them.

First, I had to wade through a lengthy menu that met none of my needs, before I could push zero to talk to a real person.

Then the person who answered was either busy doing something else, in a hurry to do something else, or had just finished her thirteenth cup of coffee. She blurted out her scripted greeting so fast and brusque that I wasn’t even sure I had called the right place. I made my request. Twice, because she was too preoccupied with whatever was on her side of the line to listen to me the first time.

I said, “I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“What did you say?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“Okay, you need to hold.”


I looked at my phone, browsed a little Facebook on my computer, looked back at my phone, and then decided to put it on speaker so that I could set it down.

At the 7:32 mark the hurried voice came back on. “What did you need?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock?”

“A what?”

“I have an item number.”

“What is it?”

I won’t bore you with the four times I had to read the number until she got it right. You can probably guess that script.

She put me back on hold. At the 16:42 mark, she came back on the phone. “What is the item?”

I gave her a description only to find out they didn’t have any. Seventeen minutes. I wonder if she went out for one more cup of coffee. I know I drank a Diet Mountain Dew (my “green tea” as I like to call it) during that time.

My best guess is that the person answering the phone in this store isn’t a trained phone operator or call center person. I am also guessing that this person doesn’t have a computer for looking things up near the phone she answered. I am further guessing that she is a manager of some sort and got called to put out several fires during my two lengthy holds. Or if not, she is a sales clerk who was taught (correctly) that the customer in front of you is more important than the customer on the phone. She just wasn’t taught what to do when you have both a customer in front of you and a customer on the phone.

If you find yourself, because of tight staffing or a busy moment in the store, in that latter situation here are some suggestions that would make callers like me less frustrated.

  1. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t have the time to be polite and get a customer’s information from them. It is always better for the call to go to a voice mail than for you to be hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone. If you are hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone, I will assume you are that way all the time.
  2. When you answer the phone, if you know you cannot solve my problem in less than a minute or two, get all the info you can, including my phone number, and promise to call me back. Make sure you or someone else does call me back ASAP (ten minutes or less is ideal). The customer in front of you will be patient enough if they hear you getting the info you need to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
  3. If you have to put me on hold, explain why and how long it might take.
  4. If you can talk to me, stay on the line. Don’t put me on hold while your really slow Windows 95 computer with dial-up looks something up. You put me at ease by staying on the line because the time goes faster, and I can’t look at the clock on my phone telling me how much time I’ve used.

Phone etiquette doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be taught. In a world where finding new customers is more expensive and difficult than ever, it can make all the difference to your bottom line when you know how to answer your phone.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Our phones had a built-in timer that started beeping as soon as a hold had lasted longer than a minute. It was an annoying beep, too, so there was extra incentive for my staff to get back to that customer ASAP.