Should you answer the phone on the job? – The installer’s dilemma

For many sole traders, the constant interruption from phone calls can be more than just a nuisance to the job in hand, affecting future orders and customer service quality. Maxine Park, of call answering service providers InTouchNow, explains how despite all the technology, from answer machines to text messaging, nothing copes better with calls than a human.
There are more small businesses in the UK than ever before and the number is growing at almost 7% each year.
Interestingly, ‘The Small Business Survey 2014’, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) indicates that 82% of SME employers were micro-businesses (1-9 employees) and that 32% operated from the home of one of the business owners.
In the current economy, where productivity and efficiency are central to the success of businesses of all sizes, there is little room for under-used employees, most of whom will have to adapt to a host of new roles.
This makes it hard for micro businesses to justify a full time receptionist to not only answer calls, but to know how to deal with them and project the desired professional image of the business. Smaller businesses rely on most employees being proficient in a variety of roles, often with the phone answered by whoever happens to be free or nearest to it when it rings.
This appreciation of the growing importance of dealing with phone calls professionally, is driven by the knowledge that in a competitive market, despite the rise of social media, the next supplier is only a phone call away.
And given the effort now being made by businesses to appear on the first page of Google, with competitors just a click away, the phone and how you answer it is becoming more important, not less as many had predicted and perhaps hoped.
It really is surprising that with all the options available to businesses of all sizes that many still cling to the belief that if they cannot answer the phone, voicemail is good enough. It is not. Surveys indicate that 70% of people calling people or businesses they do not know will not leave a message.
Like so many aspects of running a business these days, the answer for small businesses is to concentrate their efforts on what they are good at, on their core activities and outsource or co-source everything else.
Sole traders in particular are under pressure to deliver a first class service, similar to that of their larger rivals. Yet to ensure they win future work and keep existing customers happy, they need to handle calls professionally, even when working for a customer. Does it make a good impression to answer the phone to a future customer in the presence of an existing one?
Answering a call whilst working is often not only a bad idea, it can be impractical or even dangerous. Drivers who use mobile phones behind the wheel will face increased fines and more points under new government proposals, further demonstrating the danger of dealing with calls when you should be concentrating on the job in hand – driving.
But it’s not just about call answering. The best service providers will offer a full suite of reception and secretarial services, from customer service enquiries to marketing support, all delivered by professional, UK-based individuals with years of experience.
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Using these services also has the added advantage of giving smaller businesses a sense of scale, appearing larger than they really are. It also marks the business out as one that is run efficiently and recognises the importance of calls into the business.
When you outsource your needs to a professional reception team that has worked hard to understand your business, they can handle customer service enquiries, working with information you have provided, to help answer simple questions or even progress sales calls.
These teams understand they are an extension of your business, concerned with your success and not just there to take messages. If that is all you need however, the details of calls can be emailed or texted to you, so you can take the appropriate action; when you are ready.
The advanced services will include an online portal, showing the call history and actions undertaken, able to be viewed in real time. The client can step in at any time to return important calls or add information to help the reception team deal with calls more efficiently.
Following calls, you will not just have the numbers to call back, but all the details necessary to return calls effectively, with time to prepare if needed. And of course, you also have the opportunity to ignore those calls that do not matter.
Depending on your call volume and the services you require, outsourcing your call answering and reception services will range anywhere from 5%-50% of the cost of a full time employee, depending on the amount of receptionist time you require.
If you simply want your calls screened, announced and connected in real-time your costs will be lower than if you want diary management, appointment scheduling and more time intensive processes.
But for most sole-traders, the decision to outsource is one of flexibility. You concentrate on the job in hand and when you’re busy, you leave calls to be answered professionally, by humans. You buy the services you need, when you need them and turn them on and off at the swipe of an app.
So when options are so readily available, why are so many sole traders risking work and their reputation by handling all calls themselves? Or missing out on calls completely?