Retailer Tips October 1998

Phone manners matter.

If your phone service were disconnected, it would have a big impact on your business. Things would not immediately grind to a halt, but eventually you would start to run out of product, and new customers would be few and far between. The telephone is your lifeline to new product and new customers as well. By using it in a professional manner you will begin to make the phone a powerful sales tool. Here are some ways of effectively using the phone to increase business and give your store that customer-service edge.

Before The Phone Rings

First and foremost – believe that every time the phone rings, it is a potential new customer. This belief is directly proportional to how quickly you will get to the phone and how enthusiastic you will sound when answering. Make it a point to answer the phone before the fourth ring. The best way to do this is by having a chain of responsibility. Appoint one person to answer the phone first. If they are busy or can’t get to the phone, it then becomes the duty of the other employees to pick it up after the third ring.

Be prepared for frequently asked questions. Have rehearsed responses for questions such as: your store hours, your street address, directions to your shop (from several directions), what brands of products you carry, and what methods of payment you accept (i.e., checks, credit cards, layaway plans, etc.). Anticipating these questions will allow them to be answered quickly and with ease.

In final preparation, have plenty of paper and pens by every phone in the store. Besides the obvious reason, taking messages, be prepared to log customers’ requests for product and sizes. This information will help you to better know your customers’ needs, and to purchase products more effectively.

When The Phone Rings

Customers on the phone are just like customers in your store, except that they need more attention. First impressions of you and your store will be made in the first fifteen seconds of a phone conversation. You have only one chance to make that impression, so make it a good one. Start by smiling when you talk. This will positively affect the tonality of your voice. If you sound like you are happy a customer called, chances are they will feel the same way.

You and all your employees should answer the phone in the same manner. A good phone greeting will have four key ingredients and should go something like this: “Good (morning/day/night), thank you for calling (store name), this is (your name), how can I help you?” In this short greeting, you have done all the things needed to give a good impression and begin the sales cycle. You have shown alertness to the time of day, and appreciation for the phone call. You have begun to build rapport by giving your name and the store’s name, and lastly an invitation to do business.

At Board City/Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville, Florida, Justin Bereman says, “By answering the phone in a professional manner, we attract parents to our shop. While kids may decide what they want to buy, it is usually the parent who decides where they will buy it.”

The phone may not ring at the most opportune time. If you are with a customer in the store and need to answer the phone, politely excuse yourself. Contrary to what you may think, it is good for your rapport with the in-store customer. First, you get a chance to show off your professional phone etiquette. At the same time you are showing the customer that you want your conversation with them to be free of distraction. The worst thing you can do is to let the phone keep ringing. The in-store customer will begin to wonder, “What if that was me on the phone?” And the customer on the phone may just hang up.

Often, you may need to place a customer on hold. Be sure that the phone in your store has a hold button, and make use of it. There is nothing worse than putting your hand over the receiver or setting the phone down while you track someone dow Before putting a customer on hold, ask their permission and give them time to respond. Sometimes a customer may have a question that can be quickly answered, or they may prefer to call back instead.

Once on hold, you have about seventeen seconds before you start to lose the caller. Music on hold can be a great feature to your phone system, but is no excuse to leave them on hold for any length of time. Try to get back to the customer as soon as possible, even if it is just to tell them that you will be with them shortly.

Beelou Channita, store manager at Identity Board Shop in Anaheim, California, says, “We try to use the customer’s name when putting them on hold. It adds a personal touch and assures the customer that we will not forget them.”

If you get a lot of incoming calls or spend a lot of time with sales reps on the phone, it’s a good idea to invest in multiple phone lines. The cost is relatively cheap compared to the potential loss of a sale because a customer can’t get through. Besides the benefit of being able to handle more calls, you can give your sales reps a different number to call, so as to not interfere with your normal business-phone line.

When the customer calls for someone who is unavailable, always ask, “Is there something I can help you with?” This shows confidence in your own ability to service a customer, and gives them a chance to still do business. If you are unable to help the customer and must take a message, be sure to write it down. Don’t try to recall it from memory. By taking the time to write it down, you are telling the person that his or her call is important, and you eliminate the chance of someone missing an important call. Remember, a good message is useless unless you return the phone call. Make it a point to return all your phone calls in a timely manner, preferably the same day.

When No One Can Get To The Phone

Having a telephone answering machine or some type of message center to receive calls when the store is closed or all lines are busy can be a great asset. Your message should contain useful information such as store hours, location, and an apology for missing the call. Take it one step further and use the message to advertise new products that just came in stock and any sale or demos you may have planned for the future.

At Hardcorps in Hull, Massachusetts, Owner Corey Wells makes great use of his answering machine: “I try to update it daily with all the new product that comes in. It builds a sense of urgency for customers to come into the shop and see the new product before it sells.”

Personalize your message to fit your shop, and change the message often by making it part of your closing routine. By making the most of your out-going message, you’ll be amazed at the response you get.

Hanging Up The Phone

When customers call your store, chances are they have the phone book open. It is your job to give them a reason to close it and come down to your store. When ending phone calls, always thank the customer for calling, and when appropriate do not be afraid to use a presumptive close such as, “Do you know how to get here?” Always let the caller hang up first. The customer may have a last-minute question and be too embarrassed to call back if you have already hung up.

Jason Dean, manager of Active Ride Shop in Los Angeles, California, says, “The phone is how we get both customers and product into the shops. Having all employees well trained in phone etiquette allows us to do this.”

Retail experts estimate that sales are 55-percent visual, seven-percent choice of words, and 38-percent tonality. On the phone you have to use the right attitude and words to attract customers. The best ways to achieve this is by having scripted responses to common questions and believe that the person on the line is a potential new customer. When you and your employees begin to use the phone as a sales tool, you’ll find that both your phone and register will be ringing more often.ging more often.