“The first impression a prospect has of your company is the one that lasts the longest. Answering the phone is important; answering it well is critical.”
Maid service businesses are, if nothing else, easy to start up. Almost anyone owning a vacuum cleaner and supplies can start their own business. However, running a business is harder than cleaning a home, and if you are to succeed over the long run, you need a competitive advantage.
The telephone is THE single biggest competitive advantage you can have, and those companies’ best at answering the phone win the most business.
Experience (sometimes brutal) teaches us that absent a coherent marketing strategy, our cleaning skills will go largely unrecognized because the lion’s share of the business goes to those who are effective marketers.
So in order to survive we become marketers.
We read the marketing columns in Home Cleaner Magazine; we attend seminars and boot camps; we buy turnkey marketing packages. And when we apply these marketing concepts – which, let’s be honest, we don’t always do – the phone starts ringing!
Now what do we do? To begin, we answer the phone. And that’s where the substance of this article begins, because sales can’t happen until we answer the phone.
The cost of not answering the phone?
Let’s begin with the obvious: If we don’t answer the phone, we waste all the time and money we’ve invested in our marketing program.
But in fact it is worse than that. For if we don’t market our services we leave no impression, but if we market our services and then don’t answer the phone, we leave an indelible impression, a bad impression: We’re not professionals.
Recent studies show that 25% of sales opportunities ringing into franchised maid service businesses roll into voice mail. More concerning is that 50% of independent maid service businesses’ sales opportunities roll into voice mail. It’s no wonder that the average franchised maid service does three times the annual revenue compared to the average independent business.
But if answering the phone is so important, why are so many calls missed? Whether it is unexpected absences, irregular inbound call patterns, or insufficient resources to pay for customer service representatives, all limit a company’s ability to answer the phone, and therefore their ability to thrive.
So we agree that answering the phone is a must. But in a 24/7 world where the concept of “normal business hours” is as dated as an episode of Ozzie and Harriett, what are our best options?
Phone answering options
In the not-too-distant past, our options were limited. Today there are many more options available. Let’s take a look:
Owner or Office Staff
Assuming sufficient sales to justify the expense, having someone in the office to answer calls from 8 to 5 is usually the best option. That person could be the owner, the owner’s spouse or someone hired to handle telephone and other office responsibilities.
A back-up system is needed in situations where only one person is available to answer the phone. This is because calls may be missed during peak calling periods, bathroom breaks, lunch, and any other time when the person is out of the office.
Larger companies usually have several people available to take calls, thus ensuring that calls will be answered throughout the workday. But even in this case a secondary system is needed in order to handle after-hours calls.
Voice mail or Answering Machine
By all accounts this is the most common secondary system used by today’s maid service companies. If no one is in, the call goes to voicemail and a callback is made either later in the day or the next morning.
Recent research has revealed this system to be of limited effectiveness. Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality has found that the #1 requirement of today’s consumer is “first-call resolution,” that is, they want their need resolved personally and professionally on the first call.
Purdue found a 69 percent probability that a call that lands in voice mail will be lost to another company that is able to provide first-call resolution. In contrast, if someone able to provide first-call resolution answers the call, the sale is lost only 30 percent of the time. Put another way, a company is 2.3 times more likely to schedule an appointment when the call is answered by a person able to provide first-call resolution compared to a call that goes to voice mail.
Many companies forward calls to the owner’s or a manager’s cell phone when no one is in the office. This can be more effective than voicemail, although it too has limitations.
Many owners/managers will turn their cell phone off when at an appointment. Others leave it on and face the no-win dilemma (when at an appointment) of whether to answer the call (and possibly annoy the customer) or not answer the call and let it roll into voicemail. Similarly, when in a “dead” cell area, calls still roll into voicemail
On the plus side, newer technologies such as notebook computers and even some cell phones make it easy, when having calls forwarded to a cell phone, to keep track of appointments while on the road.
Answering services virtually guarantee that a live person will answer the phone. And especially in cases where 24-hour emergency service is needed, they are able to leave the caller feeling more secure that help is on the way.
Although first-call resolution is not usually available, consumers generally prefer an answering service to navigating through voicemail or talking to a machine
A variation of traditional answering services, sales centers use the latest Web-based computer and telephone technology to provide callers with first-call resolution. A sales center acts as a fully functional backup for answering incoming calls and scheduling appointments.
Sales centers borrow technology developed for call centers and use it to provide callers with all the information they need to make a decision and schedule an appointment.
Sales centers aren’t intended to replace a company’s office staff; rather, they take the place of voicemail or an answering service. They are especially beneficial for extending a company’s business hours well into the evening and on weekends, the times when it is least cost-effective for companies to staff an office.
Sales centers typically charge only when they schedule an appointment.
Finding an Edge
If you are an owner or manager of a maid service business, large or small, you know how competitive the market is. We all are constantly looking for an edge, something to make our company stand out from the crowd.
Today it is harder than ever to find that edge in the technical or marketing realm. Sometimes we can find an edge in places so obvious that we don’t even think of it. One place to look is in the way we handle our sales pipeline: the telephone.
The first impression a prospect has of your company is the one that lasts the longest. Answering the phone is important; answering it well is critical. Business calls can be broken down into three stages: the greeting, the substance, and the conclusion. Following are tips for maximizing the effectiveness of each.
The Greeting Always greets callers with enthusiasm and invites them into a conversation. Experts in telephone etiquette recommend that you smile when you answer. Following are three good greeting options:
“Thank you for calling [your company name]. How may I help you?”
Comment: A good, basic greeting. You have expressed appreciation for their call, identified your company, and asked how (not if) you can help.
“Good morning (afternoon), thank you for calling [your company name]. How may I help you?”
Comment: Slightly better because you now have two places to express friendliness and enthusiasm (“good morning” and “thank you”).
“Good morning (afternoon), thank you for calling [your company name]. This is [your name]. How may I help you?”
Comment: Slightly better still because now you have personalized the call by giving the customer your name.
The substance of the call will depend on the caller’s needs. You will, of course, be asked questions and likely you will ask questions of the caller as well. Here are three keys to maximizing the effectiveness of this stage of the call:
1. Maintain a friendly, professional demeanor at all times.
2. Don’t be evasive and don’t make stuff up, but ask clarifying questions to gain control of the conversation.
3. Try not to frame answers in negative terms; rather, explain what you are able to do. For example, if a caller asks if you guarantee your cleaning, first ask clarifying questions, then explain the options available and the results that can be expected.
If the first two stages of the call have gone well, the final stage is simple; and if they haven’t gone well, the final stage is still simple but it is even more important! Here it is: Always, in a friendly and sincere
voice, thank the person for calling.
Tiger Downey is the owner of Perceptionist, Inc , his company specializes in maximizing your company’s revenue through phone call management. He can be reached at 866.451.3502 or online at www.perceptionist.com