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Serious business owners have a business phone. And every telephone call is answered--promptly and by a live person.
The voice answering your phone IS your business. The face of your business leaps into the caller's mind immediately.
A voice mail prompt is put in place for your convenience, not the caller's. Voice mail is annoying to callers. These days, many callers simply hang up when they get shunted off to voice mail.
Of course, in single proprietor small businesses, restroom breaks are necessary. But you take your cell phone with you, right? If you do have voice mail to catch all calls, check your voice mail frequently. Don't leave them hanging out there in never-never land.
Example: Wendy was always busy in her dress shop. She ran the place alone. She carefully selected fashionable items to improve the wardrobes of upscale women. She was continually placing accessories on display--a silk scarf here, a silver brooch there. She changed her shop's front window two or three times each week. When the phone rang, she let it go to her voice mail account. Wendy woke up when one caller left a simple message: "I wanted to know if you carried designer clothes. I'll try someplace else."
You can lose a sale and a customer when you don't answer their phone call. And it is unlikely that the caller will return to you. These days, people are on the move.
Example: I write lots of content for local papers and social media sites in my area. I call local businesses every day asking for comments, information, announcements, and the like. The idea is to give them a free write-up, helping them promote their operation. It doesn't cost them anything, other than a 5 or 10 minute conversation, and they reach thousands of prospects. When my call is answered by voice mail, I hang up and go to the next business on my list. Recently, I got a business owner on the line who informed me to "just check my website." I like to put a friendly face on a business with words from you, I told her. "Just check my website," she repeated. "Everything is there." I doubt I'll ever call her again. She missed the free publicity.
Everybody gets calls from people trying to sell something. They can be annoying and a waste of time. But turning down free publicity is counterproductive.
Example: Andrew operated an architectural design firm. When he was out of his office, he always had his calls transferred to his cell phone. One morning his cell phone buzzed as he walked next door to the coffee shop. The caller was from a high-end architectural firm wanting to know if Andrew would consider being part of a large project team working on a big assignment for a major corporation. Today, Andrew has two assistants and new offices, along with a personal assistant who answers every phone call.
Your future depends on customers and clients being able to reach you--at their convenience, not yours. They deserve your attention whenever they call.
Some business owners put rules in place on handling incoming calls. Answer every call no later than the second ring, and do it with enthusiasm. Be professional and helpful. It works.