You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this mantra is as true in business as in meeting people and networking. Whether your have an auto-attendant, a live receptionist, or a combination of both, it's critical for any business to ensure that the message delivered is one that says that the business is organized, efficient, and easy to do business with.
"By the time a customer calls you, they are either already a customer, or they are likely far along in the evaluation, ready to purchase stage," said Ashley Verrill, Analyst for CRM and Business Telephony at Software Advice. "It's the most important moment you have to convince them to become a customer or not. It's really crucial... or else they wouldn't go through the trouble."
Verrill told a personal story of how important it is for a business to provide the important information front and center. One day, she needed an auto mechanic that was open before her work started so she can drop off her car. Verrill called several auto mechanics to try to find out their hours of operation, but to no avail. The first one she called that listed their hours of operation happened to be open in time and was able to help Verrill with her car. If any one of the other shops she called previously had listed their hours of operation, they might have gotten the sale instead.
"It's about figuring out what your most common customer support scenarios are and finding answers to those immediately," Verill said. "Hours of operation, address, helpful hints to your location. Companies forget to consider every possible scenario and aren't specific in responding to the customer about doing business or the ease of getting things done."
This advice applies to companies who use auto-attendants or a live receptionist, or even a small business answering service. It's one thing to have someone answer the phone to take messages, or to have an automated menu so that you can focus on customers instead of answering the phone. But, it's another thing to have that menu or that answering service help in making contact and in turning those calls into customers. You can't simply think of it as someone else answering the phone so I don't have to.
"Keep in mind the most important things about the first impression: be really easy to do business with and get [customers] what they need really quickly," Verrill said. "There's something to be said with talking to a real human being, as most would rather hear someone pick up the phone. Yet, people would rather deal with an auto-responder than be put on hold or hear a busy signal."
Smaller businesses really need to weight the two options. On the one hand, there's the issue is scalability, where it's tougher to grow the business if you're completely relying on a secretary or on yourself to answer all the phone calls. A small business answering service or an auto-respondent is great in that regard. Businesses with a high call volume, especially a high customer call volume, are especially suited for this option.
B2B businesses, on the other hand, may opt for a live receptionist or that secretary. These businesses, large or small, are better suited with the live person to handle the longer sales cycle and to nurture leads as soon as possible. Small businesses who really want the personal touch, or who have brands that depend upon the actual human voice, may consider this route also. The overall goal, whether you choose a live receptionist or an auto-respondent (or do a combination of both), is to make a good first impression. If someone is calling you, then that first impression will make the difference between a sale for you and a sale for your competitor.