Phone calls are the essential lifeblood for any small business entrepreneur, despite the proliferation of new communication channels such as emails, instant messages and social media. Many customers and prospects still want to speak directly to the business owner, whether it is to get questions answered, to learn more about a product or service, or to make a purchase.
Incoming calls can be a real problem for a real estate agent who is hosting an open house, or a plumber toiling under a sink, or an interior designer shopping with a client. In all likelihood, a missed call is a missed opportunity for new business. After all, prospects who cannot reach a live person are likely to dial the next number they find on Yelp.com or Craig’s List – or they may just decide that what they were looking for is not important enough to chase someone down. Playing phone tag by leaving a delayed message later on is not going to cut it.
So, what are business owners to do when they are unable to answer the call? There are three ways to be more responsive.Leveraging Smart Phone “One-Button Text Responses”
Many business owners try to take advantage of the “one button” text response features that newer iPhones and Android phones now provide. When the phone rings, it is easy to choose from a small set of pre-canned messages that are texted back immediately to callers – such as “I’m busy,” or “I’m in a meeting.”
While this response is better than nothing, it has several issues:
1) It doesn’t work when you’re not near the phone, when you’re too busy to hear the phone ring, or when you’re out of coverage.
2) The text messages by their nature are very terse – they let the caller know why you couldn’t answer the phone, but they do little more than let the caller know that you’ll get back to them at some point.
3) Some callers who get the text message right away simply hang up, rather than leaving you a message to let you know what they wanted, which is not helpful.
Leveraging Voicemail Transcription Services
Another approach is to let the caller leave a voicemail and have it automatically transcribed and sent to you as an e-mail, a text, or as a push notification. That way, you can read the message, even while busy doing other things, and then text people back to let them know you received their messages and when you will be calling them back. You can get voicemail transcription services from most of the major wireless carriers and/or from several third-party voicemail replacement services.
This is a reasonable approach, but it still has a couple of issues:
1) It’s easy to get really busy and take a while to get back to the caller, or forget to call them back until it’s too late.
2) It doesn’t work when your phone is off, or you are simply too busy to even read a message and get back to the caller.
Using Smart Auto-Responders
The last approach is to use an auto-responder for incoming calls that automatically replies to callers when you’re unable to pick up the phone or when the phone is off.
There are several companies providing some form of “auto-reply” to incoming calls. My company, YouMail.com, has an automatic reply that links to a customizable mobile landing page that can include the business owner’s e-mail, social media accounts, business web page, a calendar for setting up appointments, videos, and more.
The idea is that this auto-reply goes out instantly after the caller hangs up, without the business owner getting involved. It provides a way for callers to start interacting immediately with your business, such as learning more about a particular listing if you are a real estate agent, even if you were not there to answer. It takes a little work to configure, but this feature really eliminates a lot of the frustration that callers feel when they do not get an immediate response.
It’s All About Getting Back To Callers Quickly
No matter which approach you choose, focus on getting back to your callers as quickly as possible. The last thing you want is to lose business because you could not answer the phone, or even worse, you took your time getting back to a prospect or long-term customer. Those entrepreneurs who leverage technology to provide a better customer experience will be the ones who see their businesses grow.
Alex Quilici serves as the Chief Executive Officer of YouMail, Inc. Previously, Quilici served as Vice President of AOL Voice Services, where he played a major role in growing the unit to over 1 million paying customers. He has significant start-up expertise as the co-founder of Quack.com, which was successfully sold to AOL in August 2000.