When a client has an issue or wants to learn more about the services you provide, all the digital tools in the world cannot replace speaking to a real person. It doesn’t matter how comprehensive your website is or how advanced your automated operator is, you will need a team ready and able to answer the phone and provide personal assistance.
That goes for all aspects of your business: anyone can be a potential customer, and service vendors can be headquartered on the other side of the planet. When someone wants to talk to a real person, it’s important that you get the conversation started on the right foot. After all, the person calling on the phone is just as important as the one who walks in your door.
Surgent Income Tax School provides some best practices your business can use while answering phone calls so everyone in your tax office can play the role whether you have a dedicated receptionist or not.
Follow the two-ring rule
Customers calling into your tax business today are likely even more frequent than walk-ins, so your team’s promptness when answering is paramount. A quick pick-up equates to a friendly in-person greeting and earns you goodwill before a conversation has even started. If you have a receptionist, make sure they know the importance of always answering the phone as quickly as possible. On particularly busy days, however, your reception might not be able to get to a caller within two rings, and so other staff will need to be able to provide coverage.
How you structure your phone backup system depends on the size of your team and how often you expect they will need to provide extra support. If your business is smaller, everyone up to the owner might need to take calls. If your business is larger, you’ll want to take time to coordinate with staff nearest the receptionist so, if they can’t take a call, they can quickly ask for assistance.
If it’s not possible to provide a customer’s full attention within two rings, there should still be an effort to pick up the phone and quickly address the caller. Don’t rely on an automated message to assure they’ll receive a response — have a real voice give them that information. Make sure to regularly follow up if the caller would be holding for longer than a few minutes.
Have one phone number for all incoming calls
For smaller businesses, one phone number will be all you need, as you can set up your phone system so that everyone in the office can hear the ring and coordinate who answers properly. If you have multiple offices within the same building or work from more than one location, you should still endeavor to have a main number for all incoming calls. You can trust your receptionist to direct callers to the proper person.
Don’t be afraid to have multiple phones ring in the office when someone calls, especially if your business is only a few members strong. If everyone can hear a call coming in, it’s easier to keep things running smoothly. The same can also be true in larger settings, though you’ll want to limit which employees deal with the phone. Your tax specialists, leadership team and currently engaged staff will need to be able to silence incoming calls or be exempt from them entirely, depending on their workload and position.
Smile when you talk
You don’t need to see a person’s face to know their mood, but our expression can dictate how we sound to those with whom we’re speaking. Just because you’re trying to sound upbeat doesn’t mean you’ll actually sound that way. If you smile while you talk, the person on the other end of the line can hear the expression in your voice. Combine a natural smile with good posture and dedicated attention to the caller, and they’ll know they matter that much more.
If you find you can’t muster a natural smile, don’t feel like you need to force it. Pushing yourself to feel differently than you do is just as apparent over the phone as being able to smile without difficulty, more so even. So, if smiling isn’t in the cards, focus on professionalism — proper posture, directness and congeniality.
Professional, friendly greetings go a long way
Never underestimate the value of a high-quality, enthusiastic greeting. As the first words your customer will hear, it sets the tone for the entire conversation and can win or cost you business before any business is done. Structurally, a good greeting is relatively straightforward:
- Begin with a simple “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”
- Give the caller a “thank you for calling” and mention your company’s name
- Give your name and ask how you can help
For example, if your receptionist’s name was Jacob and your company’s name was People’s Tax, a greeting could sound like this: “Good morning, thank you for calling People’s Tax. This is Jacob. What can I help you with today?”
The exact construction of your greeting will depend on how you’d like to come across to your customers. The sample above is a great catch-all, but you can modify it depending on the emotion you want to elicit. Something oriented around the services your business provides might mention your specialties. A friendlier greeting would likely be more casual, shorter or invite a different tone. Consider your clientele as well as their wants and needs as you build a greeting and adjust if it doesn’t seem to garner the reactions you want.
Listen and be empathetic
Your customers call because they want to talk to a real person who will listen to their needs, find solutions for their difficulties and show they care in a way no automated system can. It will be easy to tell a customer’s state of being early in the conversation, but that information shouldn’t define the call. No matter what mood a customer is in, understand that they’ve come to you with a problem they’d like fixed, and showing readiness to fix it and empathy for their experiencing it is paramount.
Give the customer time to explain the issue they’re having. If it’s clear their hackles are up, let them get everything out. Letting off steam early can make the rest of the call much easier, and sometimes all a customer needs is to vent to a neutral party.
Based on what the customer said, try to offer immediate solutions or explain the steps you can take quickly to alleviate some of their issues. Your words will have much more weight if you can back them up with action shortly into the call, and even if it takes you some time to provide a more permanent fix, the fact you could offer something so soon into the call will go a long way.
Own the problem
In addition to empathizing with a caller, make it clear that the person who answered the call is the first point of contact when it comes to fixing it. They’ve already offered some quick solutions to the caller’s issue, but odds are there’s more to it that requires teamwork to solve. When the customer knows who they can talk to at any point in the process, they’ll have confidence that they will have a consistent experience.
Even if the issue needs to escalate, the initial connection should stay intact. Let the caller know they can always talk to their first point of contact. You would be surprised how much goodwill that little bit of confidence can generate, especially over long relationships.
Don’t leave them hanging
Sometimes, an issue will take longer to fix than you expect, or you might need to gather information from outside the call. That’s when you need to put the caller on hold, and no one ever wants to spend time out of their day waiting. Before this happens, give an approximate time for how long the hold will be. Set a timer on your end so you can return to the call when you said you would. If you need more time, still take a moment to hop back on the call and let the customer know you’re working on their request, whatever it might be.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes you won’t be able to solve someone’s issue in the timeliest manner. If you need to request that the caller wait for you to call them back or to otherwise take a message, make sure to apologize and ensure they know how long they’ll need to wait for a response. No matter what the timeframe, try to provide some response within 24 hours if only to say you and the team are still working on it.
Good phone etiquette builds strong customer relationships
How you answer the phone sets the tone for the rest of your relationship with that customer. If they’re a returning client, one bad call can sour years of positive interactions. Provide them with empathy, professionalism and a consistent experience and expect appreciation and repeat business in return.
Surgent Income Tax School offers a variety of CPE/CE courses to help you run a successful tax business. For additional tips and tricks on how to run your business or interact with clients, check out our blog.