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Effective Usage and Etiquette of Telephone and Voice Mail Systems | Print |

Telephone & Voice Processing Systems -- Effective Usage and Proper Etiquette:

Quality phone systems and voice processing systems are excellent communication tools. They allow a company to streamline internal communications while effectively communicating with clients. Like any tool, they can also be dangerous if misused.

When was the last time you pretended to be a customer of your own business? When was the last time you pretended to be the receptionist or a sales person in your company? Think of all the different people inside the company whose job relies heavily upon communicating internally and externally. Think of all your existing clients and prospective customers.

What is really important to employees and customers? We all have our own agenda; we want to get things done. We want to talk to the people that we are calling and move on. From the company's perspective, as well as its sales & service people, the goal should always be to maximize the opportunity to create dialogue with current and prospective customers, and look for additional revenue opportunities.

Great consideration should be given to the needs of employees and customers when designing and implementing a new telephone and voice processing system. Ask yourself, as well as your employees and customers, how things could be improved. Better yet, have your telecommunications consultant ask them.

You might be surprised how hard it is to get in touch with key personnel in your organization. Have you ever called a company and found it virtually impossible to get the answers you need? Do you think that company intended for it to be that difficult? Most likely, they intended their systems to support a positive flow of inbound and outbound calls for their internal staff, while creating a positive caller experience. We all know there are plenty of examples where these good intentions have failed.

Good communication starts with a good plan. Below you will find a general outline to consider when designing a new system from user feedback through system design and user education:

User Feedback:
Before purchasing a new telephone or voice processing system, find out how the end users will be affected. Get feedback from key personnel in different roles. Weigh their needs and wish list items against the needs and wants of the people they interact with.

For example, an employee of one department may believe calls should be handled a certain way, but if that interferes with customer satisfaction, maybe a different solution would enhance the customer experience while still satisfying the employee or department.

System Design:
Easily identifiable items under system design would include meeting current needs and being scalable to meet future requirements for:

  • Number of lines and/or trunks to support inbound and outbound call traffic.

    • Does it make sense to use regular telephone lines, or would a T1 line carrying up to 24 lines/trunks on a single circuit make more sense?

    • Would it reduce the automated attendant or live operator's workload or enhance the caller experience to provide certain employees with their very own telephone number (Such as a DID-Direct Inward Dial number) to route calls right to the employee's desk?

  • Number of telephone handsets to support stationary and mobile employees.

    • What features, such as display and speakerphone capability are worth the extra expense to improve productivity and user satisfaction?

    • What are the benefits and potential issues of allowing certain light users to share an extension?

  • Determine how phones will be answered.

    • Will all phones ring, like in a small business?

    • Will one or two central stations ring, for a designated receptionist to answer all calls?

    • Or would it be better to have an automated attendant?

    • Will different departments, such as sales or service, have their own call groups to allow a certain telephone number or trunk group to be dialed and make that group of phones ring specifically for that department?

    • Will the business require more sophisticated routing of calls such as an Automated Call Distributor (ACD) System?

  • Number of voice mail ports to support callers leaving messages, users checking messages, and if applicable, to support answering calls via an automated attendant.

    • Are there identifiable advantages to implementing a unified messaging system that allows users more flexibility in choosing a communication method while streamlining multiple platforms into one easy-to-use interface?

    • What other unique or advanced features may enhance the business communications in such a way that they are considered necessities of a new system?

This is a good outline to begin identifying important factors of a new communications system. A good consultant will help you explore and expand this list to ensure you obtain the right system for your business. Just remember to "compare apples to apples" as they say, when receiving quotes from multiple vendors.

Make sure one vendor isn't trying be the least expensive at the risk of eliminating key features or future scalability.

System Configuration & User Etiquette:
In some ways this is the most important section of implementing a good communications system. Without proper system configuration and user education, even the most advanced system can be difficult to use, as well as create a less than satisfactory caller experience.

Please review the following ideas to assist you in configuring your system and educating your users:

There are many ways to program a system to answer calls. The key is to select the way that makes the most sense for your business, while ensuring you avoid common mistakes that may be counterproductive to your primary intent.

  • Live Answer - All Phones Ring:
    If all phones ring, like in a small business, make sure that anyone answering the phone is fully trained on all aspects of using the system and the preferred method for handling calls.

    Always answer the phone in the first few rings. Generally, receptionists and automated systems answer phone promptly. Don't send give the wrong impression by letting phones go unanswered for more than 3 or 4 rings. If this happens often, consider a receptionist or automated system.

    If people are answering the phone with different phrases and are not using an agreed upon professional technique, callers can easily become concerned about doing business with you. It doesn't have to be fancy, something as simple as "Thank you for calling XYZ Company, how may I direct your call?" will do just fine.

    If someone answers the phone and does not properly place people on hold while they locate the intended party or retrieve information, doesn't transfer the call to the right destination, or disconnects the caller accidentally because of inability to use the system, how much will that cost you in reputation or in new or repeat sales?

    As long as everyone answers the phone the same way and properly handles the call, the caller has no idea that they aren't dealing with a professional receptionist.

  • Live Answer - Designated Receptionist:
    It is much easier to fully train a specific person in all aspects of a communications system. A good receptionist can handle simultaneous calls without missing a beat.

    When configuring a system, a call flow plan should be implemented to determine how each call is answered, transferred and messages are taken. Common successful plans include the following components:

    • Be polite and upbeat when answering the phone.

    • Introduce yourself.

    • Answer the phone the same way every time.

    • When someone is not available, and if consistent with management's intentions, ask how you might assist the caller or if someone else may be of assistance.

    • When transferring a call, if consistent with management's intentions and system capabilities, announce the call to the intended party. Allow them to pick up and inform them of who is calling in advance.

    • When obtaining information from the caller, ask politely "May I tell him who's calling and what it is pertaining to?"

    • Always obtain this information AFTER indicating you are not sure if that person is available and BEFORE placing the caller on hold the first time. Whether your intention is to screen the call or just provide information to the intended party, avoid the impression that the party may not want to speak to them. Even if the party really isn't available, the caller may get the wrong idea.

    • Always ask the caller's permission, rather than dictate what you are about to do:

      • May I place you on hold while I...

      • Would you like to continue holding, or...

      • May I take a message, or would you prefer...

      • Would you like to leave them a voice mail...

    • Avoid these common mistakes:

      • Avoid blind transfers, don't transfer calls to an extension that automatically rolls to voice mail. Have the call sent back to the operator for further direction.

        • If it is absolutely necessary to blind transfer, it is IMPERATIVE to advise the caller of this beforehand. "I will transfer you to their extension, please be aware, if they are unavailable, you will be routed directly to their voice mail, thank you for calling."

        • If calls are routed to a voice mail automatically, it is even more crucial that the caller be presented with additional options, such as "pressing 0 for an operator", or "pressing the * key to reach another extension." Any time a caller is sent down a dead end road and does not have an opportunity to make another choice, you are at serious risk of alienating that caller and losing their business. Try:

          • Would you like to continue holding, or...

          • May I take a message, or would you prefer...

          • Would you like to leave them a voice mail...

      • If taking a message, be sure to ask for the caller's name, their company name, if applicable, what the call is regarding, a contact number for the caller, as well as whether the caller intends to call again, or prefers to be called back. Also, be sure to record the date and time of the call.

      • Repeat any information gathered back to the caller to ensure accuracy and provide the impression to the caller that you care about their call.

      • Never make promises for others. Indicate that you will relay a message but do not guarantee an outcome.

      • When ending a conversation, thank the caller for calling and wait for them to hang up first.

  • Automated Attendant Answering:
    Whether it is used after hours answering, or if the automated system is programmed to answer all calls, careful consideration should be given to the menu options, what should be said, and the overall call-flow plan. Here are some good ideas to keep in mind when designing your system:

    • If planning on using an automated system, program it to pick up immediately or on the first couple of rings. Don't make your callers wait several rings only to be answered by an automated system.

    • Thank the caller for their call and introduce the company they have called.

    • Indicate they can dial the extension of their party at any time.

    • Provide a concise menu of options, preferably 5 initial choices or less.

    • Provide an option to listen to a short directory for small business, or provide an option for a dial-by-name directory for mid to large offices.

    • When providing a list or dial-by-name directory, include the person's extension, along with their name, this way, if the caller attempts to reach the same party in the future, they will already have the extension number.

    • If at all possible, provide an option for the caller to simply hold the line or press 0 if they are unsure or unable to make a selection, allowing certain phones to ring or transfer the call to a live operator.

    • For sub-menus (menus below the primary menu), offer the caller an opportunity to return to the previous or main menu, in the event they reached the sub-menu in error.

End User:
Now that the call has been answered and appropriately routed to an end user, it is critical to ensure the call is handled properly through completion. End users should follow the same principals as anyone interacting with callers. Introducing who you are to the caller, asking how you can help them, and being polite are easy ways to extend the friendly atmosphere created by the receptionist or automated attendant. Let's look at some specific ways an end user can ensure proper call flow:

  • When setting up voice mail, and end user should introduce who they are, what their position is, and indicate that the call will be returned in an appropriate amount of time.

  • If indicating calls will be returned in a specific period of time, make sure this happens. Do not make promises that cannot be kept.

  • If the user changes their greeting every day, make sure they are able to do so from a quality telephone connection, not from a static ridden mobile phone. Also make sure to change it before the next business day begins. Never allow a few hours of the day, or worse yet a few days, to go by before updating a greeting that indicates the date or day of the week. It would be better to have a general greeting than a date specific greeting that is outdated.

  • If planning to be out of the office for an extended period of time, make use of the alternate greeting function by recording a message indicating how long you will be away and whether or not you will be checking messages during this time. If available, provide the name and extension of someone else who may be able to assist your caller.

  • If available, and particularly if your greeting is a bit long, provide the caller with the option to press a key, such as the # button, to bypass the greeting in the future and go directly to leaving a message.

  • If available, give the caller the option to press a button to reach an operator or the automated system if their call is urgent and requires immediate assistance.

  • Depending on job function and availability requirements, provide the caller with an additional number to reach you or a 24 hour customer service number if available.

  • Return calls promptly. If the user determines that someone else is better suited to assist a caller, inform the other party of the caller's need, return the caller's call and indicate that the other party should be the point of contact. Do not let the caller assume you are still responsible for handling their concern, inform them of the best solution while expediting their request.

  • Perform test calls periodically to ensure employee participation in the call-flow plan.

Of course, this is just a guide, but we hope you find valuable things to consider as you plan to configure your new system, or effectively utilize your existing system. Please let us know how BMG Communications can help you implement a successful system.

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