When my dad started his business in the 1960s, my mother answered his business line and took messages for him to return when he got back from his service calls. That worked well, because he didn’t have to pay her, and because they wanted her to be at home with the kids when we were young.
When we got a little older and his business was bringing in a more regular income, he engaged a professional answering service. It wasn’t a perfect arrangement, but it worked well and he continued operating that way for many years. Although he could have purchased an answering machine at some point, he strongly believed that customers prefer talking to people rather than to machines.
We now have a lot more options, thanks to technological advances such as distinctive ring, where you can have two separate phone numbers on one phone line, and voicemail, which allows businesses to have their telephone answered around the clock very inexpensively. However, despite the prevalence of voicemail, many callers are not comfortable leaving messages, and if you rely on voicemail to handle your calls when you’re out working with clients, you run the risk that some potential clients may just hang up and call another organizer. The fact remains that most people do prefer the human touch.
Many organizers use a mobile phone as their primary business line so they can more easily be reached by callers, even when they’re out of the office. If you choose this option, you’ll need to make sure that you’re not speaking to Client A while you’re on the clock for Client B, and that both clients’ privacy is respected at all times. In addition, please don’t use your phone while you’re driving unless you have a hands-free kit! It’s not only dangerous, in many places, it is illegal.
Some people hire a virtual assistant to handle their incoming calls. They either forward their phone when they’re out of the office, or purchase a cell phone which stays with the VA. This method can make you look professional and successful, as if you have your own office staff.
Telephone answering is not one of the services I offer, but I have on occasion agreed to look after calls while a client is on vacation. In one case, I had to call in to check the client’s voice mail twice a day, then call back anyone who left a message. In most cases, I would return the call only to reach the client’s voicemail. So back and forth it went – I probably only connected with half of the people who called. So what became of the others? They, most likely, went to my client’s competitor for services. (My client, meanwhile, still had to pay me for my time.)
Another client uses a system where voicemail messages are delivered by email. One time, she arranged for the messages to be delivered to me while she was on vacation. This was better than the previous scenario, both because I didn’t have to make a point of calling in to check for messages, and because I was able to return the call immediately in most cases so I had more success reaching the clients. What I really noticed, however, was the number of blank messages that came in. These were probably people who knew they couldn’t be reached by return phone call, so they would either try again later, or move on to the next business on their list. Although it was a better system for me as a VA, I am not convinced that it was ideal in terms of customer service.
A third client regularly uses Smiledog, a service where all incoming calls are routed to a remote receptionist. Unlike the answering services available in my dad’s day, the remote receptionist doesn’t merely take messages, but can provide callers with answers to frequently asked questions about your business, or even schedule appointments on your behalf. They can also act as a switchboard and direct incoming calls to you or other members of your team, even if you’re all working from your own home offices, as in the case of my client. If the individual being called isn’t available, the caller has the option of being connected to another team member or leaving a voicemail message, which will be delivered by email. Smiledog is located in Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, but you can probably find a similar service closer to home if you think this would be a good solution for your business.
How are you handling incoming calls to your business? What do you like and/or dislike about your current system?