Unproductive Communication

By: Andrew Regan

People like people. Although technology has made it easier for us to communicate, find information and shop, the truth is people like doing business with people and, on the whole, business transactions still predominantly take place over the telephone. Is your business missing revenue-generating calls?

Whatever the size of your business, giving your potential and existing customers a simple and reliable means to reach you via the telephone is arguably the most important aspect of your overall business, particularly from a customer service perspective.

We all know how annoying it is to phone a company and get no reply or be poorly taken care of. Technology has fuelled our appetite for information and as such consumers demand products and services quicker and cheaper. If your business does not keep up, you can be sure your competition will.

Neil Sherring of Windsor Telecom, the UK's second largest provider of 0845 numbers, deals with thousands of businesses who are moving towards an enhanced and simple approach to telephone communication and customer service. "The truth is if potential customers can't get hold of you, they'll try your competitors and if you fail to answer the phone when your existing customers call, you'll lose them before you know it."

Here's Neil's top five tips for enhancing your marketing, customer service and call management:

1. Location, Location, Location (of your phone number!).
There's hundreds of free places you can display your phone number, yet we are all guilty of ignoring how important this is. Business cards, leaflets, online directories, shop fronts, uniforms, vehicles, letterheads, fax headers, the list goes on. For example, do you display your phone number on every page of your website or just under 'contact us'? If customers see a phone number they are more inclined to call. Don't miss any opportunity to display your phone number.

2. Put yourself in your customers shoes.
70% of people hang up the phone on voicemail. We all know how hard it is to answer the phone every time, but any missed call could be a missed sale, so make it your priority to answer all your calls. This doesn't mean you have to stop doing everything and sit by the phone all day, it just means you have to be on the ball about your call management and perhaps invest in a solution. These range from effective voicemail, online time and day management of your calls, to impressive bespoke solutions. Do your research, evaluate your options and most importantly take action - you'll wish you had done it sooner.

3. Your phone number is king.
0845 numbers quite simply transform your business. According to an OfCom report 83% of UK businesses say their NGNs are important to their organisation (August 2005). There is no doubt that a 0845 number is professional, easier to remember and gives a national presence. Normal landline numbers don't have these valuable features and don't stand out amongst the rest. A great phone number is central to your corporate identity and a gateway to other powerful benefits, such as call statistics.

4. "May I ask where you heard about us".
You wouldn't believe how many people don't ask this question and it costs nothing! If you know you get most of your calls from online advertising then you can be sure that if you spend more on that you'll get more calls and make more money. If you fail to do this you could very easily be wasting hundreds of pounds.

5. Information at your finger tips.
The more you know about your customers the more effectively you can sell to them. How amazing would it be to know who calls you and where they call from, when you get the most calls and how many times you miss a call etc? You could very easily advertise in the right location, manage your time, working day or staff more effectively and never miss another sales enquiry. Businesses do this everyday with call statistics packages. From 'one man bands' to corporate giants, it is without out doubt the easiest way to get a better understanding of your market, manage your business productively and get a competitive edge. Information is everything these days and these give you it at the touch of a button.

In a world dominated by technological development and wireless, the good old fashioned telephone is often neglected by businesses, but remains the primary customer channel. Max Atkinson, visiting professor at Henley Management College and author of Lend Me Your Ears (Vermillion 2004) estimates that unproductive communication costs UK businesses an estimated ?7.8 billion each year.

Your business doesn't have to be part of this ?7.8 billion loss, particularly if you follow the five simple steps above. It's all about being proactive and thinking more about the way your customers contact you. There's a wealth of advice and an excellent range of cost effective products and services out there, which will help you generate more enquiries and boost customer retention.

Andrew Regan is a freelance online journalist who travels extensively.

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