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Breaking Down Our Phone Greeting

“Thank you for calling the Toy House. How can I help you?”

That was the greeting I trained my staff to use every time they answered the phone. Twelve words in a specific order for specific reasons. Let’s break it down …

“Thank you for calling …”

Image result for mom on phoneWe were a toy store. Imagine who might be calling a toy store. A mom? Sure. A mom with kids running around playing at her feet? Likely. A mom trying to juggle two or three things at once? Ding, ding, ding. Half of her focus is on something other than the phone.

By using an opening phrase like, “Thank you for calling …” before saying the words “Toy House”, we give her a chance to regain her focus. In that split second she recognizes that someone has answered, that someone is a male voice, that someone is speaking English. By the time we get to the words she most needs to hear to know she called the right place—“Toy House”—she has dialed her focus into our voice.

Have you ever called someplace and they said the store name so fast you weren’t sure you called the right place? That doesn’t happen with this script. You give your customer time to focus on the call so that she hears the name of the store clearly.

The other thing this phrase corrects is the employee so in a hurry to answer the phone that he is saying the store name before the receiver even gets to his mouth.

Also, we begin with the words “Thank you.” There is no better greeting for a retailer. They didn’t have to call you. They could go online. They could go elsewhere. They called you. Be grateful. Say thanks.

“How can I help you?”

This is a question that indicates you are ready for the customer to begin talking and you are ready to listen. I have called stores where they simply say the store name and then shut up. There is usually an awkward silence at that point. Not only is this question polite, but it makes the conversation go much more smoothly. Plus, it reinforces in your own staff the importance of listening.

Notice that I don’t instruct my staff to give out their name at this point. There is a reason behind that. The initial person answering the phone is rarely the person answering the question. As you remember from the previous post, the four questions most commonly asked are:

  • Can I speak to (a person or the manager)?
  • Can I speak to (a department)?
  • Do you have (a product)?
  • How late are you open?

The customer is likely to remember only one name and usually it is the first name they hear. If the customer asks for a department or has a specific question, the person that greets them at that time is instructed to give out his or her name. “You have reached the baby department. This is Phil. How can I help you?”

This way the customer is only given one name to remember, the name of the person who gave her the greatest help and the name she would need to remember if she called back.

At the end of the day, a customer calling your store wants three things.

  • To know that she called the right store
  • To be treated with respect
  • To get the information she needs

When you train your staff on these little details, your chances for meeting the customer’s expectations go up exponentially.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You don’t have to use the same script I used. The most important thing is that you have a script and train the little details like answering the phone with whatever greeting makes most sense for you. Just don’t leave it to chance or happenstance. When you don’t train your staff on these little details your chances for failing your customers go up exponentially, too.

What if You Don’t Train Them and They Stay?

There is an old story of two managers discussing staff training. The first manager objects to training saying, “What if we train them and they leave?” The second manager replies, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

My friends, knowing I write this blog, send me examples of experiences they have all the time. This one that happened last night …

My friend walked into a restaurant. The hostess eyed her from the moment she walked through the door all the way to the hostess stand. The hostess didn’t say a word. Not. A. Word. My friend had to initiate the conversation. Talk about awkward.

Image result for old-fashioned telephoneOne of the first skills all of my new employees learned was how to use the phone. We learned how to answer it, exactly what to say (yes, the greeting was scripted), and how to respond to questions. We even talked about the importance of smiling while on the phone because people can actually hear a smile. (Try it with your friends. Grin broadly while talking on the phone until the person on the other end of the line asks whats so funny.)

I taught the phone skills first for a number of reasons.

  • It made them feel helpful right off the bat.
  • It set the tone for the attitude I expected from them in front of customers.
  • It helped me gauge their communication skills.

Answering the phone was easy because there were pretty much only four questions that got asked …

  • Can I speak to (a person or the manager)?
  • Can I speak to (a department)?
  • Do you have (a product)?
  • How late are you open?

For the first three questions, no matter who answered the phone, you would typically put them on hold. The last one even the newbies on the staff could answer.

The cool thing was watching them practice their phone answering skills. The outwardly friendly staff members had no problem smiling and speaking joyfully. The rest, I knew I would have to work with them on their communication skills a little more.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Communication skills are important. You can no longer take for granted that people know what to say and how to say it. You have to teach it and practice it. By starting early with a communication skill, I set the tone for how important proper communication would be and what I expected.

If you aren’t teaching proper communication skills you just might end up with a hostess who doesn’t know that it is her job to say, “Hello!”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The script for answering the phone was simple. “Thank you for calling the Toy House. How may I help you?” I’ll break that statement down completely in a following post.

Teaching Your Staff to Listen

“I’ll have a poppy seed salad, half-size, with a baguette and drink for here, please.”

“Okay. What salad would you like?”

“Poppy seed. Half-sized.”

“Okay, what side? You can have chips, baguette or an apple.”

“Baguette.”

“Would you like a drink?”

“Yes.”

“Will this be to go?”

You can imagine this exchange. Maybe you have had this exchange. This is word for word the exchange one of my employees shared with me from a recent lunch break.

Listening is a far underrated skill that needs to be on your list of traits.

Fortunately, there are ways to train listening skills. Here are two exercises you can do with your staff to help them work on their listening skills.

REPEATING THE QUESTION

Pair up your staff and have one ask the other person random questions. Before the other person can answer, he or she must first repeat the question back to the one asking. Have them each ask four questions of each other.

Your staff will get two benefits from this. First, you get them trained in the process of repeating and paraphrasing the question back to the customer. This technique forces them to listen and also clarifies what the customer really wants or needs. They will be better able to solve the customer’s problems.

Second, they will get to know more about each other, so it becomes a team building exercise as well.

WHY I LIKE WORKING HERE

Have the staff pair up again. Have each person tell the other their favorite reasons for working here. Let them know that they will have to tell the group what the other person told them.

This also has two benefits. First, they have to listen to be able to repeat. Second, when you are all done, everyone will have heard everyone else telling them why they like working at your store. Talk about a major morale boost!

After doing both of these exercises, talk about the importance of listening, repeating back, and clarifying. Challenge them to practice the repeating back all day every day with every customer until it becomes habit.

Not only will their listening skills improve, so will their morale and your sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I had an advertising sale rep who used this repeating back technique almost to the point of annoyance. Here is the deal, though. He never made a mistake. He never got it wrong. He always did exactly what I wanted. I appreciated it so much and was crushed when he retired (early because he had done so well as a salesman with that technique).

Pick One

My wife was on the phone calling to get some info about a project we wanted done.

The guy on the phone said, “Hold on a second.”

She could hear some rustling around, heard him call another person’s name. He finally came back with an answer that she wasn’t sure was directed at her or somebody else. She asked for clarification and he said, “Sorry about that, I’m doing three things at once.”

Ummm… Pick one.

Pick one, do it well, do it completely. Don’t answer the phone if you cannot give that person your full attention.

My guess is that he didn’t upset one customer. He probably upset all three.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you have to answer the phone because you don’t have an answering service, first ask permission from the current customer. “Excuse me, may I answer this call?” If the customer gives you permission, then answer it, get the info and promise to call them back when you’re done with the current customer. A little courtesy goes a long way.

How Late Are You Open?

This is our number one request from phone callers.

How late are you open?

Most people don’t know our hours in the first place. Plus, they expect that we will have longer hours for the holidays.

How late are you open?

It is an easy question to answer when you are open and already answering the phone. But what about when you are not?

We have extended hours for the holidays so we post our hours on a big banner we hang on the side of the building. Easy to read for anyone who drives by.

We also have an answering machine. A simple, cheap, $20 answering machine that I bought at Radio Shack. It gets the job done for people who call when we are not open. Surprisingly, many indie retailers in my town do not have an answering machine.

Last night my wife called a number of stores in our downtown just to get their hours. None of them had an answering machine.

If she doesn’t know your hours, she cannot plan you into her shopping trips.

Even if your hours haven’t changed for decades, do not assume that every customer knows them.  Unless you are open 24/7, make sure you give your potential customers every opportunity to find out when you are open.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have a complex phone system, five lines, sixteen phones, etc. There are plenty of expensive phone answering systems out there that include phone trees and customized messages. Since I’m not a fan of phone trees and I don’t have the budget for those systems, the $20 cheap-o answering machine accomplishes my main goal of telling people our hours without breaking the bank. You cannot afford to NOT have one.

PPS Wanna know how I made our message also consistent with our Character Diamond? Call us after 9pm Eastern Time (or before 9:30am Eastern time) (517) 787-4500. I promise it will make you smile.

Phones Done Wrong

I’ve been beating the Customer Service drum for a few weeks now. It is the one biggest advantages we specialty store owners have over our competition.

Every now and then I see stores who get it right.

Every now and then I see reminders of how far we still need to go.

Just yesterday my wife had a moment that made her cringe. She wanted to find the hours of a local store. We needed to make a purchase.

They have a website, but their hours were not listed on it (mistake #1).

She called the store. The person who answered rattled off the hours so quickly that my wife could barely understand her (mistake #2).

Then the person never asked my wife if she had any other questions (mistake #3), if she needed directions (mistake #4), or even thanked her for calling (mistake #5).

Two minutes of interaction and five easily correctable mistakes.

If you do not have phone etiquette in your training program, you need to add it. You can turn a customer off before she even reaches your door with a poorly handled phone call.

-Phil Wrzesinski
http://www.philsforum.com/

PS Along with eliminating the four mistakes above, remind your staff to smile while on the phone. People can hear that smile in your voice. And always end the call with, “Thanks for calling.”

PPS A fun way to approach phone training with the entire staff is to play the telephone game where one person whispers something into the next person’s ear and so on around the circle until the last person relays the now-garbled message back to the beginning. Makes the staff laugh and gets them in the mood to accept the premise of clarity on the phone.

Watch What You Say

1:06 pm Saturday, April 18th, phone in my right hand listening to the ring tone. Calling a downtown restaurant known for good lunches in the sleepy city of Jackson where on a Saturday half of downtown shutters the doors before the sun hits it’s zenith. They answer…

“Hello, {Restaurant Name}”

“Hi, how late are you open?”

“One o’clock…” (big pause)

“Oh, you just closed?”

(Exasperated) “No, one o’clock AM!”

Geez, sorry for asking…

First impressions go a long way. Unfortunately many first impressions are made by wrong assumptions. The person on the other end of the line assumed that everyone knew they were open at night and therefore assumed that “one o’clock” could only mean “one am”.

Imagine if I had called at 12:30 pm. I might have assumed that “one o’clock” meant “in thirty minutes”. And they would have lost any chance at my business that night.

Simple little misunderstandings caused by assumptions that lead to lousy first impressions. If you want to make an assumption, assume that every caller is a first time caller to your business and knows little to nothing about you. How would you treat that caller differently?

Exactly! You’d give them more precise and useful information and avoid embarrassing and potentially costly misunderstandings.

Put a little time into your next staff training to evaluate faulty assumptions you might make when you answer the phone. Use this story to illustrate the point. It may be the least expensive best training you’ll use this year.

-Phil

PS Full disclosure: It was my mom who made the call. She almost hung up at hearing “one-o’clock”. Although she and her friends are going there tonight, her first impression will be a lasting one, and they’re going to have to work really hard to overcome one seemingly innocuous answer and win her over.