ReceiptionstI was calling a client of mine, Bill Peterson. Bill is the managing partner of a 50-person accounting firm. The phone rang seven times, so I was expecting his voice mail. Instead, I was greeted by his assistant, Marilyn with an unhappy, bored, stressed female voice. 

“Mr. Peterson’s Office,” the voice grumbled crankily. “May I speak with him?” I asked politely. 

“He’s busy right now,” Marilyn told me, with an edge that suggested I was a huge interruption in her busy morning. “Would you like his voice mail?” 

“I’d prefer to leave a message with a human,” I responded.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m too busy to take a message, I can’t even find a pen in all this mess,” she replied with obvious mounting hostility, “Do you want his voice mail or not?” 

The decision to do business with you and your firm–or to continue to do business with you-is made in the first few seconds of contact. If I had been a client or a prospective client, I would have responded, “No, just have him send my files to my new accountant.” 

But I’m the coach who is helping him manage and grow his business, so I accepted the offer of voice mail. 

“I had no idea,” Bill said apologetically when we spoke later that day. “I know Marilyn is cranky sometimes-she’s got a lot going on in her life-but I never suspected that she was taking it out on callers.” 

I’m sure you’re great on the phone with your clients, prospects and vendors, but how does your personal staff answer the phone? How about the members of your executive team and their assistants who have contact with clients? I’ll bet that many of us would be as surprised as Bill at what we heard. 

Here’s how the conversation might have gone:

Pleasant Voice [responding after no more than three rings]: “Mr. Peterson’s Office. This is Marilyn. How may I help you?” 

Me: “May I speak with him?”

Pleasant Voice: “I’m sorry sir, he’s [in/ working] with [someone/a new referral client] at the moment. 

Is there something I can help you with?” 

Many of my clients have opted for the efficiency of voice mail. But if you want to make a really good impression on a new client, nothing beats a well-trained, pleasant human who answers the phone promptly and makes a noticeable effort to be helpful. 

If you don’t know how your clients, prospective clients, vendors and others are being treated, have someone call your office while you’re listening in. Then, fix it.

And always keep REACHING


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