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The thumbnail version:

  • A real, live person to answer the phone is the best option
  • Voice mail is the next best thing after a live person
  • Unanswered calls should be returned promptly
  • Potential customers are impatient enough to go elsewhere

The full version:

This is not an new topic but it’s one of those basic things that so many smaller businesses still seem to have trouble with. And it is a big deal because it can be costly when your potential customer becomes someone else’s actual customer.

Having a real, live person pick up the phone as soon as it rings and politely and helpfully deal with the caller is obviously a good business practice. If it’s not possible to do internally, then an answering service can do it for you. Failing those two options, voice mail is the next best thing—not a good thing, but better than nothing, such as not answering at all would be.

However, voice mails have to be handled properly. And properly means getting back to the caller as soon as possible. In today’s environment people are impatient so they’re not going to wait too long (if they wait at all) before calling your competitor. And if their call to your competitor is answered right away by a live, polite, helpful person, you’ve likely lost a potential customer. Frankly, it’s what you’d deserve for a bad business practice.

And if you don’t think this is a big deal, consider what a business owner told me recently when I asked him what his competitive advantage was . . .  “We return phone calls.”