It's National Small Business Week. Is Your Phone Ringing Off the Hook?
This week America is celebrating our country’s 30.2 million small businesses. And while there will be National Small Business Week parties inside brick-and-mortar stores and deals on ecommerce sites, we should be thanking Alexander Graham Bell because the telephone is still the lifeline for local businesses, even in the digital age.
Every day, American small businesses receive an astounding 400 million calls from customers wanting to place to-go orders, book appointments, check open hours, inquire about inventory, and more.
Phone a friend.
Last week BrightLocal revealed that 60 percent of consumers still prefer to pick up the phone and call local businesses instead of emailing them or contacting them via social media. Why is this still the case in the era of ubiquitous internet? There’s two primary reasons.
First, small business don’t have the resources to invest in digital marketing and sophisticated communication channels. For example, a custom website can cost around $30,000. Not surprising, BigCommerce found that a whopping 46 percent of small businesses don’t even have a website. Other modern technologies, like call tracking platforms and interactive voice response systems, charge by the minute or the call, which makes for unpredictable budgeting and can cause cash flow issues.
The second reason is more human. As customers, we feel a personal connection to our local pizzerias, oil change shops and HVAC repairmen. We call these businesses when we’re in a crunch, when we’re on-the-go, when we’re hungry. We know they’ll provide what we need faster than a big company could and better than we could on our own. Small businesses are our friend.
Adding to this call volume is spam. In 2018, 26.3 billion robocalls were made to American phones, according to Hiya. That’s up 46 percent from 2017’s total of 18 billion.
As a result, my team at CallJoy found that nearly half of small business calls go unanswered because owners are just too busy or assume the caller is another spammer. You can’t blame them. Not only are robocalls annoying, but falling victim to a fraudulent spam caller is costly. A study from Truecaller estimated that Americans lost $8.9 billion to phone scams in 2017.
But when the phone goes unanswered, customers don’t get that sushi roll they were craving or that massage appointment they really wanted. Simply put, spam impacts customer service levels, giving consumers the short end of the stick.
Untying the phone line.
This growing volume of customer calls can easily overwhelm any small business, especially when coupled with other factors such as peak call times, seasonal trends or employee turnover. This National Small Business Week, here are five tips local entrepreneurs can use to untie the phone line:
1. Conduct resource planning. By tracking phone calls, you’ll gain insights into your peak call times and what customers are most frequently asking for. This knowledge will empower you to properly plan resources. For example, if the majority of phone calls to your retail store happen between 5-7pm, you might need an extra clerk during that shift. If your beauty salon frequently gets asked about a particular organic shampoo, you might want to stock more of that product.
2. Properly train staff. Oftentimes, the root of long hold times and busy signals is that hostesses, receptionists and clerks aren’t properly trained upfront. Assess your training program and manuals and provide cheat sheets to ensure phone calls are fielded efficiently, and with customer service at heart.
3. Predict and answer basic questions. Many calls your business receives are probably basic questions, like open hours and location information. Proactively answer these questions via resources on your website, social channels and your Google My Business profile to save the customer (and you) a phone call.
4. Find affordable, accessible technology tools. From DIY website builders to online ordering and reservations apps to call answering services, new software programs are emerging that harness the power of the Cloud and even artificial intelligence. Best of all, some of these tools are affordable, finally making sophisticated technology accessible to small businesses and big corporations alike.
5. Report spam. Check with your phone company to see if they can block calls from any problematic numbers. If you're in the U.S., register your personal number with the National Do Not Call Registry at: www.donotcall.gov/register/reg.aspx. And finally, submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, go to www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.
Despite evolutions in mobile technology and social media, Alexander Graham Bell would be glad to know the telephone continues to be a lifeline for local businesses. And I predict it will remain so for many, many years. Managing your call volume is critical to keeping high levels of customer satisfaction, productivity and profitability. So untie the phone line -- your customers, your employees and your stress level will thank you.