I read your editorial faithfully, and this Aprils issue on the sign hit home. Youre right on both accounts.
First, small businesses do have to play in the ugly price game, which sometimes costs in quality. I do respect the words of that sign. Second, the lessons taught by SBN, industry peers, customers or the like need to be reflected on and reviewed periodically, for my interpretations do change as I learn from my business.
Thanks for your menu of food for thought.
Ron Scheeser, Vertical Solutions Inc.
As always, your articles are enlightening and put things back in perspective. I should take you to my local pizza guy (The Pizza Nazi). Hes really rough with customers. Some seem to enjoy it! However, we always come back because its damn good pizza.
David DeSantis, Systems Imaging
On taxing the family
In the April SBN was a great tip for those of us inheriting family businesses. My parents business is a series of apartment buildings and duplexes. In order to avoid the inheritance tax, they have put the buildings in mine and my brothers names. Is it more beneficial to establish an irrevocable life insurance trust as advised in your article? Blood, sweat and tears go into family businesses, and this one is NOT going to the IRS!
Editors Note: Ruth Forsyth, the author of the All in the Family article in April, says she commends your parents for taking steps to protect the family business, but to whether they made the right choice, she would need more information to assess the situation. Generally, though, she cautions people like your parents to explore all the options first because, as she says, they might manage to avoid one tax, only to face another.
Getting the message
(In response to Ray Maranos April column on telephone courtesy.)
Ive worked for my fathers interconnect business (Altman Telephone Service) for nine years and have crawled up the voice mail ladder slowly but surely and it was a mental battle to do it. Of course, since our business sells and installs telephones.
I did finally see the need for answering machines/voice mail when I entered the fast-paced business world after staying home to raise my children for several years. Once I entered the business world, it slowly dawned on me that I needed to use both answering devices to my benefit. The list of reasons is obvious: Leave important information for someone who is hard to get hold of; make sure to leave your name so that important customer knows you at least tried to return his call; to stop telephone tag, etc.
Okay, so Ive even become a proponent of voice mail and answering machines. And not just because of our family business, but because I see the benefits to me and other busy business people.
But. There are still some things I do not like. For example, we have a customer who recently made a change almost the same way your company did one person decided this company should answer the phones first. We warned them their receptionist would no longer be able to be counted on to help get those small projects which she currently was able to help with.
She would probably need two backup attendants to keep her from doing just what you said putting one caller on hold to answer another. Well, in the two weeks since this change took place, Ive talked with her twice. Both times I had to be put on hold while she answered other calls.
Sure, I like a live attendant answering. But I do not like to be put on hold when making a long-distance call so that someone else can use my dimes time to steal her away from me. Knowing they had a good voice mail system which they did away with because one person wanted to always reach a live attendant made it a little harder to swallow.
A live attendant is a good idea for most businesses but only if you are equipped to handle the call volume. If not, technology is EXPECTED by the consumer.
Sue Skovira, Altman Telephone Service
If the president of our company was having a face-to-face conversation with me and the switchboard began to ring, I can assure you that the president would expect me to answer the phone as soon as possible and wouldnt mind hanging in limbo! So here I am at work I have four calls coming in at the same time and two people on hold.
The first call I answer is from someones wife telling me that she needs to get ahold of her husband because they have to meet at the soccer field at 6:15 tonight, not 6:00 as originally planned, and could I possibly page him a third time because she just hates to leave him a message in his voice mail because he never listens to it anyway, etc., etc.
Wait a minute the other line begins to ring and, yes, the first caller will probably be cut off in mid-sentence and be put on hold because I have someone else I need to answer to. Oh, I forgot the two people on hold. They would be customers who have issues that need to be resolved right now, and no, they will not leave a message, and they will hold until you meaning the receptionist resolve it for them. But dont leave them on hold for too long; find them someone.
Lets answer that second call wait a minute, do I see a frustrated co-worker out of the corner of my eye? I gotta get that second call its a sales rep asking me to page the same person over and over again because, darn it anyway, he has to be in the office, because he just spoke to him and he needs an answer right now, so find him. There is the third call coming in, and its someones three-year-old child going on and on about what he did this morning after breakfast and is his daddy there, because he wants to tell his daddy about his breakfast.
I am sure you understand what I am trying to say. Here is my telephone code of conduct:
1. Please, just ask for who you want. You dont have to go into extreme detail. I just really need to know who you want to speak with.
2. I just love children, but really ...
3. Plain, decent common courtesy and being polite and having good manners.
I take pride in my job and I believe that I have to represent my company in the best light possible. Its a very hard but very satisfying job. And to any frustrated co-workers who get interrupted in a conversation with me, I suggest that, maybe, they should respect my position also.
Lucy Salyers, MCS Inc.
I read with interest your article in the April SBN. My own pet telephone peeve is with the well-meaning and generally courteous operator who, after having determined who I am trying to call, seeks to determine who I am. May I tell him whos calling, please? she asks. Certainly, I reply.
There generally follows 20 seconds of dead silence.
May I tell him whos calling, she asks again, somewhat less courteously. Of course, you may, I respond.
More silence. Sometimes followed by a click.
Occasionally, the operator will catch on and simply ask me who I am, which I then tell her. More often, I am obliged to soothe hurt feelings and explain that I have a one person campaign against silly questions, and asking me for permission to convey information which she simply does not have seems to me to be polite but less than brilliant.
In short, why cannot secretaries, receptionists and operators be taught that it is infinitely more correct and no less polite to ask, Who is calling, please?
I have been told that, in Great Britain, they do not say Hello when they an swer the telephone. They say, Are you there? If someone answered the telephone that way in this country, I would be sorely tempted to say, Yes, and wait for the next question.
Foster S. Goldman Jr., attorney with Markel, Schafer & Goldman P.C.
Just a few contributions to your code:
When leaving a message to someone who does not know you, state your return phone number s-l-o-w-l-y and repeat it. I dont want to review the message just to verify the phone number.
The greeting on your own voice mail message should be brief just your name and a statement (Hi, this is Joe. Please leave a message.) The fact that you are not answering already tells me you are either away from your desk or not in. I trust you will call me back. The exception is if you are away from the office for an extended period of time. Then just tell me when you will be back or who else I can ask for.
If its a sales pitch, please say so. If I am not interested, I wont call you back no matter how you try to hide the fact.
Finally, I really do prefer a living human answering incoming calls during regular business hours. Any organization that is unwilling to invest in someone to support the efficient handling of important customers (which I define as any customer) probably will not do a good job for the client anyway. I am sorry it took a while to respond to your article. I have been busy clearing out my old voice mail messages.
Joe Reljac, COMPUCOM Inc.