Your Customers’ On-Hold and Phone Experience: Is your company really customer-friendly?

By Valerie Hendel, copywriter for On-Hold Concepts

I pass a cleaners everyday on my way home from work and am baffled by their dirty awnings with the dingy white lettering. The e is missing. The intent of the sign is to advertise that the establishment is a place one goes to get clean laundry. The awnings, however, are talking dirty. I avert my eyes.

If business brand is the collage of images, services, and concepts that help your potential customers identify your business from another, then every instance that a person bumps up against your business is significant. Whatever a person sees, hears, experiences, or feels about your business is an opportunity for you to sell your company and the services it provides. It’s an opportunity to make an impression. So powerful is the image of the dirty awnings that, although I might not need cleaning services today, I may need them one day, and there is one place in town that will not get my business.

If you’re a small-business owner, you pour gallons of your own sweat into producing a high-quality product that earns you word-of-mouth business. In addition, you spend about 5%-8% of revenue on advertising. If you employ a marketer, the CMO Council cites that you will contribute to the 540 billion dollars spent globally on advertising this year.

So, how much personal and financial investment is represented in the person who calls your business? A customer phone contact is the first or second point of interaction with your company. This is where your potential client experiences you in real time. According to a Forbes article by Carol Kinsey Goman, you have “Seven Seconds to Make a First Impression.” Carol is addressing face-to-face interaction which includes non-verbal cues, but attitude and tone also are used by the brain to establish fundamental impressions like “Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, or confident?” Your company’s phone interface with the customer presents crucial information that is used by your callers to form an impression about your company. The phone then, is one of your company’s most important brand ambassadors. What does your company stand to lose if a person’s interaction with your company is a negative one?

In my capacity as an ad copywriter, I make thousands of calls to businesses. What I discover every day is that too many businesses make decisions about their phone systems based on the company’s convenience, and they fail to design a system that ensures a positive experience for the customer. Yet, one hundred percent of my clients say that they value and provide excellent customer service. If your phone system and on-hold environment are not customer friendly, you have missed an opportunity to demonstrate that you really do care about your customer.

On the high end of customer-oriented companies, my calls are received by a receptionist. I am placed on hold for no more than two minutes while my call is transferred. The receptionist retrieves my call if the person with whom I am trying to connect is not available. While on hold, I hear brand-appropriate music and informative advertising that educates me about products and services. The next tier represents the majority of businesses I call which are answered by an automated attendant. My call is transferred, and while on hold, and I hear the on-hold advertising and music program.

On the low end of customer service, a company employs a poorly trained receptionist. My calls are unprofessionally answered, and my calls are transferred hither and yon. I am kept on hold for an interminable length of time, and if the person for whom I am calling is not available, I am not retrieved, but left in the ether. If there is music to let me know that I am in fact still on hold, the genre is not brand appropriate, is of poor quality, the ads are poorly written. Worse … there is silence on hold. A close second is when my call is received by an automated attendant created to tear at the very fiber of my sanity. The tree is nine options long and three deep. It isn’t uncommon that I have to call back a couple of times to get where I need to go.

Your job as a business owner  or manager is to make sure that your customers who call are greeted in a professional, convenient, and stress-free manner. Calculate how many calls your business receives each day. About seven of every ten calls are placed on hold. That’s time when you have your customer’s attention. A Time Magazine article by Brad Tuttle calculates that “You Probably Spent 13 Hours on Hold Last Year.” He goes on to report that 60 % of customers complain of getting nothing on hold. These are the percentage of people who hang up, and many will never call your business again. And don’t forget your vendors. They use services too, and they will remember you positively or not; and they will talk.

On-Hold … That’s where I come in. My job is to help create an experience that capitalizes on the investment my clients made to get their customers to call. My best efforts result in on-hold time that is aligned with my clients’ services and values. A professionally produced on-hold environment helps establish your brand, educates your callers, and sells services.

I strongly recommend that you have your automated attendant and on-hold advertising professionally produced. Besides just keeping me in bread and butter, there are very sound reasons why you want to let professionals do the work. Let’s start with the copy … you may be a dentist, a really fabulous dentist. I am a copywriter, and I don’t fill my own teeth. Writing ads is a craft. There is an art to writing ads that target and engage an audience, and writing for an audio medium is different from writing for web or print.

Many of my clients entertain the idea of recording their own ads. Most often, I discourage the notion. Yes, your accountant has a nice voice, but voiceover artists don’t just read. They are skilled at interpreting advertising copy and recognizing high-value words. They’ve trained their voices to work within the parameters of recording technology. You may not recognize your accountant’s crackle-voice affectation. Voiceover artists are clear, so that your listener will have no obstacle to hearing your message.

There is another very important reason why you want to hire a professional on-hold company to produce your program: your valuable time. You have a business to run, and you do your job very well. Hire an excellent on-hold company, and put the expertise of their team of writers, artists, and producers to work for you. Put their customer service to work for yours, and your brand will not fail you when your customers come calling.


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