You’ve heard the cliché that you must answer the door when opportunity knocks, yet despite often having great business concepts, many entrepreneurs fail to answer when opportunity calls. Yes, opportunity still uses the phone—and you should too.
Old-school customer service (read: direct, personal, and human) is more helpful to customers than digital systems that bounce callers from prompt to automated prompt or an email form on your website that doesn’t guarantee a response.
Connections matter in business, and dialogue with your customers is the best way to build strong relationships and accurately gauge satisfaction.
The current communications landscape is more globally connected than ever before, but it’s also increasingly fragmented. A growing number of companies rely on email, text messaging, and social media to move business forward and to handle customer relations, but swapping the personal touch of a phone call or hand written note for the time saving ease of digital communications is riddled with drawbacks.
We know business is not better when customers are unhappy, so why do so many start-ups opt for automated answering services and impersonal digital communication strategies?
Automated phone systems, known as IRV (Interactive Voice Response) are appealing to some young businesses because they’re often cheaper than employing a human to direct phone calls, and IRV’s are meant to screen calls that it deems unworthy of human assistance, only patching through calls from “serious” customers with order numbers in hand and the patience to remain on hold indefinitely.
IRV’s require a much smaller time investment from the business to manage customer calls, but here’s the main issue with this approach: every customer call deserves personal attention. If your IRV is screening calls and redirecting people trying to contact you directly with questions or concerns, the odds are good that they will not be return customers, and negative word-of-mouth testimonials can do irreparable damage to a new business.
My personal business approach focuses on four core principals: integrity, insight, rigor and reliability, and has not changed since I launched my company in 1998. I learned early on that when running a business where you offer more than a million customizable products your customers are going to have a lot of questions. Without direct conversations I would not be able to provide the level of insight into each order that my clients have come to expect from me.
Do you answer your cell phone at 2:00 a.m. when a customer calls? After 15 years I still do, and the voice on the other end of the line has been appreciative every time.
The middle of the night isn’t my favorite time to talk shop, but in a global economy, “business hours” don’t really exist. I make myself available to my customers at all times because I would rather answer a question during dinner than have a client wait a day for a response to a voicemail.
When you make a customer wait, you risk letting them walk away. But, by making yourself available and accountable to your customers, you build trust and move your business forward.
No one wants to do business with an unreliable vendor, so if you truly want your business to succeed you have to prove your worth. Making a customer with a simple question wait through automated prompts before being able to speak with a human won’t prove anything positive, and will only encourage them to take their business elsewhere.
Think about the last time you bought something. It makes no difference if you were in a store or shopping online. Did anyone from the company offer to help you? If you had any questions about products or complications with your order, were you able to ask a human?
New technologies have the potential to connect entrepreneurs with potential customers from all over the world, but the only surefire way to monetize this potential is to talk with them. You can call it “old-school,” but I just call it effective.
Make yourself available. Encourage inquiries. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. If you’re willing to take the time to learn who your customers are and to teach them about yourself, you will know success.
Esbert Cardenas is the CEO of Image Outfitters, a promotional products and advertising specialties company he founded in Miami in 1998 with $5,500 in capital. Today, Image Outfitters has an office in Stowe, Vermont and annual revenue exceeds $1 million. In 2012 Cardenas created iShare, a program that lets his customers donate 10% of their order’s revenue to the charity of their choice.
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