Answering the phone

Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

SORRY BUT IS IT just me who gets annoyed with companies that cannot answer their phones in a timely manner and perhaps worse, allow incompetent people to pick up calls from customers? We are in the process of moving office. One of the services we have to look at is moving our PABX to the new offices in Alabang. It would appear that the company we purchased the system from a couple of years ago are now running their business from a house; I could hear a cockerel crowing in the background, a baby howling, and the general sounds of tricycles passing by outside. The lady who answered the call confirmed I had the right company but seemed absolutely clueless to answer any questions. She then asked me if I would leave an e-mail address! (Why?)

Answering the phone

I started to spell out my address when she interrupted me with, “Yes sir, I have your e-mail address!” “No you don’t.” I responded. “I haven’t given it to you yet.” I won’t bore you with the conversations but this went on for another minute or so in the same tenor during which she claimed to have my telephone number and my name (neither of which I had given her) and then quite rudely, slammed down the phone.

What is particularly galling is that we may have to use this company to reinstall and program the phone system. I won’t be calling them again. I’m afraid that nowadays, my tolerance for incompetence and rudeness is limited. So I’ll pass it on to one of my staff and let them handle the issue. Let me just make these observations; if I had a choice in the matter, I would not call them back. Further, a company operating out of a domestic dwelling leaving a harried mother (this is the only explanation I have) to answer calls does not fill me with a great deal of confidence in their ability to handle our transfer.

How many times I have I called a company at lunchtime? Is lunch between noon and 1 p.m. or 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.? Anyone’s guess but how frustrating is it to get a security guard on the phone who knows nothing and cannot transfer the call because he doesn’t know how to operate the phone system?

Making inquiries about moving companies last week, I let my “fingers do the walking.” Turning to the relevant section in the Yellow Pages Directory, I found literally hundreds of companies offering pretty much the same services to customers. Some of the companies were obviously no more than an individual with a small Elf or Canter truck; others were the better known names in the industry. One company, whose name I recognized because a former colleague of mine works there, had taken out a quarter page advertisement listing a number of telephone numbers. Not one of these numbers worked (even though they were drawn from the latest yellow pages!). Finally, I found a listing of four numbers on the Internet. Three were answered with, “The number you have dialed is not yet in service.” Finally, I got throughout on the last of the numbers. 

I asked to be connected to my former colleague’s office to speak with her. The receptionist then insisted I give my name, telephone number, and company details before putting me through. Only after giving all this information was I told that my friend was out for lunch. (At 3:30 in the afternoon?) I then asked to be connected to someone else who might be able to help me. Young “Miss Helpful” asked me for the name of the person that I wanted to speak to, “Anyone will do,” I replied. After a further five minutes of answering more irrelevant questions. I gave up in frustration, put down the phone and called another company.

The response from the second company wasn’t much better. I did manage to get through to a manager who told me that he would call back as soon as he could schedule a visit to complete an estimate. To date, a week later, he has not called back!

The third company I called had placed a much smaller advertisement. The girl who answered the phone immediately asked how she could be of service. She went out of her way to gather salient details including current office address, where we are moving to and the likely dates of the move. She politely explained that her boss was not in but she would make sure he returned my call the minute he arrived back in the office. An hour later, the receptionist called me back and connected me an estimator who seemed genuinely keen to win the business. He arrived early the following day to complete an estimate and had this forwarded to our office by close of business the same day!

It seems amazing that companies in the service industry should take such a casual attitude towards phone-in customers. Sure, telephone directories may be out of date but it is inexcusable to list defunct numbers on a Web site! Perhaps the girl who answered the first call had been told to screen all incoming calls to make sure that unwanted callers didn’t get through. But for heaven’s sake, this was a service company. Surely, all callers are wanted since they may be potential customers.

For a service company to screen calls, waste a potential client’s time and employ people who cannot answer phones correctly or forward calls to the right extension is a joke. Best not to deal with companies who can’t get the basics of customer service right!

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.

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