Think about the last really bad experience you had talking to a business? Sadly, you probably have something in mind. That’s because effective call handling is essentially an art. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration to give your callers the best experience possible.

For local businesses, having employees cross-trained on skills and procedures that are not strictly part of their job description is a must, especially when it comes to effective call handling. Even companies that have a dedicated receptionist can benefit from making sure that everyone in the building understands that the phone has to be answered promptly, courteously, and according to your business’s call handling best practices, even if that means someone other than the receptionist does it. If your business hasn’t established a set of best practices for effective call handling, you can begin with these basic principles.

Answer the Phone with a Smile

Have you tried calling a business only to feel like you’re bothering the person who answered the phone? It doesn’t set you up for a good experience. While it can be frustrating for employees who are not actually the receptionist to be interrupted in their own tasks to answer the phone, it’s critical that callers never see or hear that frustration, because in many cases, this will be the caller’s first time interacting with a person at your company. If they’re greeted with anything less than professional courtesy, you’re likely to be losing a prospective customer and taking a risk that that caller will spread the word about their bad experience. Encourage your employees to take a deep breath and actually smile before picking up the phone, as a reminder to shift gears from whatever they were doing to being friendly and helpful to the caller.

Follow up Voicemails Promptly

In some cases, like after business hours or when a caller needs to speak to a specific employee in order to satisfy their reason for calling, there is no way to avoid callers going to voicemail. Multiple studies show that businesses that reply fastest to prospects, whether in chat, by email, or by phone, are able to earn business from more of those prospects; as many as half of buyers end up making their purchase from the first vendor who responds to their contact. The sooner your team can respond, the greater your chances of gaining and retaining customers. Be sure you have a system in place around who checks and responds to voicemails at your business. And, if your team has individual lines, make sure everyone understands that you expect them to check their voicemail and start returning calls within minutes of arriving at work, when they return from meetings, lunch, and any other time they are away.

Set a Two- or Three-Ring Policy During Business Hours

During normal business hours, your callers should never experience several rings, followed by a rushed-sounding person answering the phone. If you have a receptionist and that person is busy, anyone and everyone else should be prepared to pick up a call or two, and they all need to know that you expect them to do it promptly. Preventing the loss of valuable leads and customers is everyone’s responsibility, and you need to make it clear to your employees that you expect their cooperation and support, even if answering the phone is not part of their specific job description.

Slash Hold Times

Sometimes, there’s no choice but to place a customer on hold, whether to look up information for them, to answer another call, or to find the person they need to speak to for answers on a product or purchase. There are countless studies presenting widely varying statistics about how long customers are willing to wait on hold; one common thread is that the majority of those studies show that after one minute on hold, your caller is far more likely to form a negative opinion and/or hang up. Minimize the time your callers are on hold with simple techniques like training your employees to keep the caller talking while they look up information for them, and providing in-house chat for your employees to communicate with each other while they’re on the phone with a customer.

Collect Contact Information Every Time

One final step in developing your best practices for effective call handling is making sure you collect contact information from every caller before they’re placed on hold, even for a moment. This ensures that your team can follow the call up later, if needed, to provide additional information and try to close a sale, and if the caller hangs up, someone can call them back immediately and try to turn the situation around.

At a minimum, the person answering the phone should get the caller’s name and company, if applicable, a phone number, and an email. Using lead management software helps you track not only contact information, but contact progress, status, and other critical notes that can help your team turn prospects into buyers.

I was recently looking for boarding facilities for my dogs, and only one of the five facilities I called about availability and pricing asked for my contact information. So, they were the only ones that followed up with me to see if I still needed dog boarding a week later. Where do you think I boarded my dogs?

Is Your Business on Top of Effective Call Handling?

By establishing best practices and making sure everyone in your company understands them and the critical reasons behind following them on every single call, you’re taking a big step toward stopping blown opportunities through losing leads and increasing your company’s call success rate.

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