Using Telephone Technology Properly

Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed at how his invention has evolved. Telephone services are a vital part of every horticulture busi­ness today. They link employees to customers, employees to other employees, and businesses to suppliers. Services are offered by a diver­sity of providers that compete against one another with a wide range of enticements that promise to make a company faster, more efficient, more productive, more cost effective, and so forth. Blind acceptance of these claims by a business can lead to the belief that customers will be better served once the latest techno-wonder system is in place. Often that is not the case. The reality is that answering machines and voice mail systems rank among the most annoying and overused devices to enter the business world in years. In the minds of many, they are as bad or worse than being placed on hold and compelled to listen to scratchy music while an overworked receptionist talks to someone else on another line. When machines talk to machines, little or nothing is accomplished, time is wasted, and customers are frustrated. Cellular phones can also be annoying. When receiving a call that is made incom­plete by loud crackles and missed words, or when trying to return a call

and receive instead a recorded message that the person being called is

out of range, customers have a right to be annoyed. Here, then, are some

tips on using modern telephone technology in a business setting:

• Avoid answering machines during business hours whenever possible. Provide sufficient and trained staff who can answer and address customer concerns. If a hold line is being used frequently, a larger staff is needed to be doing the job properly. Also, recognize that there is no value in having the telephone answered by a person who is unprepared to offer any assistance to the caller. “I’m sorry, Ms. Andrews is out. No, I don’t know when she will be returning.

I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about that. Would you like to be connected to her voice mail?”

• Avoid using progressive forwarding, such as “for the garden center, press 1 now, for the landscape department, press 2 now. . .”

•If a caller must be placed on hold while the receiver searches for something, make the wait brief and do not play music in the listener’s ear.

• Avoid the use of answering services. The most they can offer is message-taking and they have no knowledge of the business.

• Calls to customers made from cars are subject to breakups and should be conducted on a clear line and at a time when the caller can give full attention to the customer and the purpose of the call.

• When making a call, be prepared for the possibility of having to leave a message on a machine. Too many callers stutter and stammer instead of leaving a meaningful message. Since the machines are not likely to go away, business people and customers alike must learn

to leave messages properly. The two most important parts of the message are often the parts delivered most hastily: the caller’s name and return phone number. The name should be delivered slowly and spelled if necessary. The telephone number should be delivered the same way. Most likely the listener is trying to transcribe the name and number. If delivered too quickly or slurred, the call may never get returned.

• Fax messages use the telephone lines as well. Many businesses have preprinted forms that contain information similar to the letterhead of stationery. Before sending a fax, the sender should be certain that the message identifies the sender of the fax as well as the intended recipient. The return fax number of the sender should also be included if not part of the preprinted form.