What If You Don’t Prioritize Answering Your Incoming Business Calls?

Leaving incoming business calls to be picked up by voicemail is a widespread problem in the pavement sweeping industry. Some small business operators offer a ready rationale for this practice. They reason that it’s worth it because they’re busy, and it serves to screen off calls that would waste their time. Their conception of the habit of letting the phone ring until voicemail answers does not appear to include a solution to the extreme short- and long-term implications of this ill-advised practice. 

Managing Incoming Calls

There’s age-old wisdom in answering business phone calls on the first or second ring, ideally by a person. Some good alternatives include:

  1. Investing in having a dedicated human phone attendant processing calls is having everyone responsible for ensuring that the phone is answered before the third ring.
  2. Or, a hierarchical order of responsibility is sometimes arranged among the whole group instead, so that, for example, the most junior employee picks up on the first ring. If the call is not answered by the second ring, that indicates that the junior employee is on another call, in a meeting, etc. At that point, everyone else shares responsibility for picking it up by the third ring.
  3. A less preferable alternative is employing technology that performs group rollover functions to send calls to backup extensions, auto transfer to networked devices, and/or offer voicemail directory options. 
  4. If you have none of the technologies mentioned in #3 above, it’s time to look into an upgraded telecom system for small businesses that features, at minimum, automated reception and call routing functionality. 

Phone Performance Tracking

For any unconvinced operators who dismiss the problem and persist in not answering the phone as the top priority, consider common metrics that have for so long exposed the relationship between various methods of incoming call handling:

  • Lead production rates
  • Sales conversion rates
  • First call conversion rate
  • Customer retention rates
  • Problem resolution rates
  • Customer satisfaction rates
  • Customer engagement rates
  • Customer experience ratings
  • Cost per call
  • Contact quality
  • Other relevant ratios

Why Not Send Business Calls to Voicemail?

The entire purpose of voicemail is, of course, to ensure that, instead of receiving no answer at all, callers can at least leave a message. Then, callers can at least start anticipating that someone will return their calls within a reasonable amount of time. This alternative can be very helpful for small business owners who are struggling to fill multiple roles all at the same time. However, as you can see, this is far from an endorsement of replacing answering the phone in person with a machine full-time.

To a limited extent, people generally empathize with someone swamped by the above-described conditions. Further, as you know, it’s naturally a much better customer experience to hear an artificial voicemail attendant confirming that you’ve reached the right party and offering you the means to leave a message than for the phone just to keep ringing. Again, you can recognize this as an acknowledgment of voicemail as a substitute for a human that is preferable to nothing, but not as advice to make it a full-time practice instead of answering the phone.

The alternative to voicemail, when you can’t answer the phone, is leaving the phone ringing until the caller either hangs up or the phone system rings the number of times for which it is preset to automatically disengage with the caller. Disengaging stops the ringing, which saves the system from ringing indefinitely and leaving the caller waiting excessively for it to stop ringing, thereby giving them their queue to stop hoping that their call will be answered. 

That leads to frustration, dissatisfaction, and often lost sales, which means loss of potential long-term business relationships. So, letting the business phone ring with no answer at all is clearly the worst option. The somewhat less damaging alternative is allowing your calls to go to voicemail. 

That solution, although weak, may help avoid the most serious consequences of not having a person answering the phone. But, letting all or most calls go to voicemail all the time causes its own range of problems for businesses attempting to grow and build a brand. For example:

  • Missed Sales

In the pavement sweeping industry, a phone call may be from a prospective new customer who is shopping for a new service provider. Prospects for sweeping service contracts often collect 1, 2, or 3 bids. Non-contract prospects typically call around for a few quick price quotes. When there’s no answer on a business phone, a prospect can be expected to move on to another vendor in the market who answers the phone prepared with information. 

Even if the prospect leaves a voicemail message, possibly to cover as many contingencies as possible, when you respond, the prospect may have already chosen a more responsive company.

  • Bad Customer Service

In terms of customer support, not answering the phone is a sure way to damage your all-important customer satisfaction and retention rates. Typically, when a customer is bothering to call you about their pavement sweeping service, they need a response promptly. 

When you don’t answer that call, it demonstrates a lack of a sense of urgency in your outlook on helping them. When they don’t receive a return call quickly, that naturally causes a negative impression that adds to similar instances and/or any other issues they’ve experienced with your business and can lead to a perception that it’s not worth it for them to continue trying to work with your company.

  • Diminished Phone Traffic

It’s better to offer voicemail than no answer at all, but that’s just not good enough in a competitive market. When people learn that they cannot get a bid readily by calling your business or that they can’t get customer service immediately by calling, that means you’ve taught them not to call your company. 

To keep people feeling confident in your team’s preparedness and willingness to help immediately with information or urgent field services, you need to have a human answering all calls possible. The voicemail alternative should be used minimally. So, coordinate team members to ensure that someone is responsible for answering the phone at all times possible.

  • Brand Damage

You invest precious dollars in marketing to generate revenues for your company and promotion to make your brand respected and recognizable in your market. The last thing you expect to learn that you are unwittingly doing is extravagantly squandering that success by repeatedly failing to interact appropriately with people who reach out to your business. If you genuinely cannot answer the phone, that point is not meant for you. 

The message is for operators who elect to let all or most calls go to voicemail as a) a screening method, b) a preference over having to deal with people on the phone, or c) who don’t understand the seriousness of the accruing loss of business advantages over time.

The number of chances you get to do it right is limited. There is not an infinite number of opportunities in a given market — not even in a large market. Word-of-mouth, whether positive or negative, is very powerful. To build a strong brand requires interacting with every person that comes into contact with your company. Relegating these critical contacts to an automated communications system is like forfeiting a portion of your investment. 

This is especially true if you have a telecom system that offers insufficient options, or that does not make it easy to get the results people want when they call. They’re sure to perceive your brand as unresponsive to their best interests, which can negatively impact your branding.

When the Office Phone Rings

Worrying about having enough human and financial resources to keep a small company running and functioning optimally for growth, and at the same time, just letting incoming calls be disregarded as the critical priorities they actually are, is a dichotomous way of doing business. Instead, business owners should look to elevate their personal service significantly at this key point of contact, initiating the customer lifecycle with their company. 

Of course, having someone answering the phone all day is not feasible for many operators, especially solo entrepreneurs in the early startup phase. But, there are very inexpensive answering services you can employ to answer for you 24 hours per day. Or, consider routing calls to your cell phone or asking a family member for help. 

Or, in the worst case scenario, at least offer a respectful explanation on your outgoing voicemail message explaining that you’re unable to answer the call and promising to call back as quickly as possible — and then do that.

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