THE PHONE IS STILL YOUR FRIEND

Two points: The telephone remains an essential marketing and sales tool. Despite the ease and convenience of email, when push comes to shove, we all use the phone to introduce ourselves, clarify specifications, give thanks for the business, and, yes, apologize for mistakes and miscommunication made via other communications media. On the other hand, the telephone is an underutilized marketing resource for most printing companies. It has also become a great source of frustration for customers and sales reps.

FIRST INTRODUCTIONS

When calling our HMO, financial and insurance providers, government agencies, or large corporations, we are forced to punch through an endless maze of menus and numbers. Then you're left on hold for an interminable period of time. God forbid you get distracted and miss a prompt; you're forced start all over, wasting precious minutes in pursuit of help. This is not a customer-friendly system, no matter what the CRM pundits say.

While many printing companies have regrettably opted for such a mechanical phone system, most are not the size of these mega-organizations and, so, have the more preferable option of hiring a real-live person to answer the phones. This person should be knowledgeable about the organization, trained in phone skills, and helpful in getting the caller through to appropriate contact in the organization.

Training in phone protocols, including those for receptionists, reps, and CSRs, is widely available and used by many printing companies. It's surprising, then, how little effort many companies make to help employees who routinely speak with customers and prospects. The need for training of those who have such contact should be apparent, and it should not be limited to phone protocols and etiquette, important as these subjects may be. It should include information about the nature of the company's work — products and capabilities — and it should be updated frequently.

SILENCE IS DEADLY

Any company that's serious about quality service struggles to keep customers on hold for no more than a few seconds at a time. As a printbuyer myself, I am often put on hold while a rep or CSR is paged. My wait may be no more than a minute or two, not very long on the face of it. But if the hold is silent, the elapsed time seems like an eternity in a world in which our working lives are increasingly measured in nanoseconds.

Most companies know this, and they respond to the need with music — Musak or a local radio station. Musak is better than nothing, but what a wasted opportunity.

Here's a perfect recent example: An on-demand printing company plugged its phone system into a local radio station for on-hold programming. A prospect was kept on hold and heard the advertisement of the company's competitor offering a discount for the very product he was calling about. When the rep picked up the phone, the prospect insisted on getting the same deal the competitor was offering. Ouch!

Another recent example: A client who uses our phone-on-hold service told us he'd just won a job because the prospect learned on the messaging tape that our client had pharmaceutical folding capabilities.

There's hardly a more cost-effective way to promote capabilities than to include them in brief phone-on-hold messages, interspersed with music of your choosing. It's a perfect answer to the "I didn't know you do that" syndrome. The messages, recorded by professionals, inform customers about existing capabilities and new additions to your range of services. Sound expensive? It's not.

The equipment is a non-issue. Most telephone systems now include a chip that accommodates phone-on-hold recordings. In older systems, a piece of external equipment can be added via a jack at prices ranging from $500 and $1000, depending on your phone system. And script development is in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.

STAY ON BRAND

Most importantly, your phone messaging must be consistent with your brand strategy. If your brand is founded on friendly customer service, select talent with voices that are warm and friendly, music that soothes, and craft messages that support your customer service value propositions. On the other hand, if your brand is based on a technology value, you'd choose voice talent with a faster-paced delivery, upbeat music, and snappy messages about capabilities. Of course, customer research is a prerequisite to determining your brand strategy and making sure your phone-oh-hold messages (and all your marketing messaging) hit the mark with your callers.

In my next column, I'll address ways to overcome the dark side of phone communications —voice mail and gatekeepers — to help your sales staff get their messages heard.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman

October 20, 2003
Print & Graphics
Col#55, 10/03
Printing Journal
Col #55, 10/03
The Telephone
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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