How Many Times a Day Are You Getting Fired?

‐ November 12, 2013

I recently read a quote from Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. “There is only one Boss. The customer. And he can fire anyone in the company from the Chairman down simply by spending his money elsewhere.”


If you will please excuse me for a moment, I am going to get on my soapbox about something that might not seem to be a problem to you. But this problem could be costing you and your company business and you probably are not even aware of it.

During the course of a week doing business our Marketing Department makes hundreds of phone calls to customers and prospective customers. One thing struck me the other day – how impersonal business is today. A full 80% to 90% of businesses now use some sort of auto-attendants or voicemail to handle incoming phone calls. You may say, “Well OK Mark, ain’t technology great! So what’s your point?”

Well my company’s purpose is to drive business and sales to our customers businesses through direct mail marketing programs and customer referral programs. We are very good at what we do and many of our customers have these auto attendants and voicemail systems. So here is my point.

The success or failure of your business whether you realize it or not, lies simply in communication. The more open the lines of communication are, coming in and going out of your business, the more successful your business will be. Anything that slows, stops or diverts communication to or in your business is an enemy of your business. Auto attendants and voicemail systems by design slow, stop or divert communication coming into your business.

The economy has been rough the last few years. Businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars advertising to get new customers. Yet they build a layer or an obstacle, depending on how you look at it, between themselves and their customers and prospects who are reaching out for their service.

Consider this, the first thing customers and prospects get when they call these businesses is a machine not a person. Granted the “machine” always has a sweet sounding voice asking you to please press 1 for English, press 2 for service and so on. You press 2 then you get. “Sorry we are helping other customers now, but your call is important to us, please leave a message and someone will call you back.” By this time, usually three to five minutes later, your customer is thinking maybe I can “talk” to a human being if I call Brand X. The other day I called a customer and reached a voice message stating to please leave a message and she would call back “at her convenience”. You have to be kidding me! This woman’s message is sending customers in droves to their competitor.

Bean counter and accountant types love the cost cutting benefits of auto attendants and voicemail sounds. They say after all, you don’t have to pay overtime, benefits or payroll taxes on an auto attendant or voice mail system. The fact is, you will never cut costs enough to make up for the business you lost by bad service. I am sure you personally have tried to call a business in the past and got stuck in a voicemail system. Did you get a trapped feeling? Did you feel you were wasting your time calling that company?

The basic purpose of every business in existence is to help people. And every business in existence is really selling help. People have problems and need solutions to the problems. Your product or service provides that “help” they need. Your customers usually are very busy and in a hurry and want help now. They do not want to wait. And they shouldn’t have to wait, if only because one of your competitors will not make them wait.

I know I am really on my soapbox on this one, but your customers are living, breathing human beings. Nothing can communicate to and help a human being like another human being. If your company is using one of these systems as the first contact with a customer, I am going to be so bold as to say that you are losing business because of it. A person answering the phone and then sending a caller to a voicemail is better than a fully automated answering system. But there are 3 rules for voicemail. You are probably aware of them, but just to recap.

  1.  Keep your message short, sweet and to the point. Usually 5 to 10 seconds. You don’t need to recap what you have going on that day. Just thank them for calling and tell them you will call them back.
  2. Check voicemail every 30 minutes for messages.
  3. Call people back within 2 hours after the message was left.

One answer to not putting a receptionist on your payroll is to hire an answering service to answer the incoming calls. There are several of these services, some better than others. Yes, it will cost you money to hire them. How do you justify the expense? Well ask yourself what an average customer is worth? My guess is if you save one or two customers a month you will have paid for the service.

I’m going to get off my soapbox now.

If you need something to help your phone ring please give me a call, 727-536-4173.

We create marketing materials like direct mail, postcards and self mailing brochures that will generate traffic to your business.

How you handle the traffic when it is being generated will, to a great extent, determine your success or failure with advertising your business.

Mark Hale

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