In the past several years, I’ve called literally hundreds of body shops, vendors and collision-related businesses over the phone to interview them for articles I write for Autobody News. And every time I encounter a strange phone experience when calling a body shop I’m surprised. In any business, the phone is usually the first contact you’re going to be making with the public, and that’s why it’s so important. And in the collision industry it’s even more crucial.
Think about it. Your potential customer gets in an accident. They get three or four names of body shops in their area from their insurer and they start calling them. If they’re left on hold or the person answering the phone is rude or inattentive, many people will simply hang up and call the next shop on their list. So the big question is—do you give good phone or are you currently losing business by falling short in this important area of customer service?
Although e-mail and text messaging have become more popular ways of communication, we still use our telephones almost constantly for both personal and business reasons. It seems that good telephone manners are common sense, but my recent experiences have led me to believe that there are many lessons to be learned by body shops in the arena of telephone etiquette.
The topic of phone protocol and how some body shops don’t seem to value the importance of it became more apparent recently when I was calling a body shop to interview the owner for an upcoming ABN article. First, the phone rang at least 12 times before someone picked up. Okay, I’m thinking, they’re a busy shop, no problem. It happens.
Then, I heard a voice, but for just a millisecond. “Hold.” It made me feel like I was ordering a pizza for delivery. Without a simple “hello” or “I’m really busy, can I get back to you in just a minute?” I sat on hold for at least five minutes, and then the call went directly to voicemail (or in this case, I call it “voice jail’) without any explanation. No greeting, just a beep.
So, I hung up and called back so that the painful process could resume all over again. This second time, the woman answering the phone shouted out “Bill’s.” Not “Bill’s Collision,” which is the actual name of the business.
But at least this time around we had a brief conversation. I could hear her chewing gum and her indifference to my inquiry was immediately evident. “Is Bill there?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “Do you know when he’ll be returning?” After a long sigh, she said, “No idea. Do you want his voicemail?” Been there, done that, I thought. “We’re really busy right now,” she added. And without any further warning—boom, I was back on hold.
At that point, I hung up once more and decided to try again later. But each time I called, I got the same person and each time she seemed even more bored than the time before. I could almost hear her eyes rolling!
The other call I hate is the one where the receptionist grills you and after a series of questions you might be allowed talk to the boss. I can understand, because most body shops receive 10-15 sales calls every day, so screening out the wannabes is crucial and a good phone person is adept at it. But, when you feel like they’re interrogating you in the process, that’s bad phone protocol. Hey, I’m not trying to reach Obama, it’s a body shop owner—so why are you making me feel like I’m the paparazzi chasing your boss down? It’s all about the way things are said and when a receptionist gets too protective of his/her boss, it’s a real turn-off.
So, how should body shop employees act on the phone? I asked an expert on the subject. Her name is Cynthia Grosso, a business consultant, etiquette coach and author of the owner of the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette in Charleston, SC. She gave me a very simple list of do’s and don’ts about phone manners:
● Never call someone “Honey, sweetie, or darling” on the phone, especially if you don’t know them. It’s too personal and unprofessional.
● Be conscious of the tone of your voice, especially when you answer the phone. (If you’re having a bad day, please keep it to yourself.)
● Be sure to identify yourself immediately when the person you are calling answers. Dead air will kill a call every time.
● If you happen to be screening calls, do it gracefully without acting like a bodyguard and offending the person who is calling.
● Do not eat while talking on the phone. That’s why lunch breaks were invented.
● Always return phone calls. Make a point to find the time. It only takes a few seconds to call someone back or to send an email explaining that you will call them back when you are available. Not returning a phone call is the worst offense and inexcusable. The rule on returning phone calls is within 24 hours and the standard for emails is 48 hours for a return response.
“Phone communication is all about finding a common language,” Rosso explained. “Everyone wants to feel important, and keeping that in mind is key to any successful phone interaction from a customer perspective. Don’t leave people on hold for more than 30 seconds without checking in. And remember this—the telephone is your front other door and an extremely valuable component of how to run your business.”