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5 Phone Answering Mistakes That Drive Away Customers Make sure your automated system is simple and your live attendants are friendly.

By Steve Harvey Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Did you know the way you answer phone calls to your business could be driving away customers?

According to Marketing Land, one study found that 74 percent of people were inclined to choose a competitor after a negative phone experience. And the first, and perhaps most important, step to any phone experience is the way the phone call is answered. That means a bad initial phone interaction -- long hold times, not being able to get through to the right person, overall lack of professionalism when answering and routing calls -- could do much more damage to your business than you might realize.

How can you improve the way you answer your phone in order to retain customers and drive business?

The first step is to use an automated system, or an Interactive Voice Response (IVR). IVRs are advanced phone auto attendants that can perform basic tasks such as refilling prescriptions, taking payments, surveying callers and fielding answers to yes/no questions without requiring the time of your team members. They also perform the important function of helping define the customer's specific needs so that the first human interaction is likely to be with a person qualified to address their needs. There is nothing worse as an initial customer experience than being bounced from department to department. Although IVRs are great, they can still cause frustration and drive away customers when not used properly. So, here's how to use an automated answering service, like an IVR, to retain customer and grow your business.

Related: The 6 Best Small Business Phone Systems

How to use IVRs to keep customers and grow your business.

If your business already has an automated answering service, or you've determined your business needs an automated answering service such as an IVR, it's time to look at how to make that answering service as caller-friendly as possible so you don't lose customers or cause frustration.

Here are 5 common mistakes to avoid so you don't drive customers away with your automated answering system:

1. Offering too many choices

People don't like being overwhelmed, and they're typically in a rush when they call. Giving callers lots of options might seem necessary or even convenient to you, but in reality, it only adds frustration.

Another common problem is having too many "levels" of options. Again, it may seem like you're being helpful by using your automated IVR to learn exactly why someone is calling, but it could instead fatigue the caller and make them want to hang up.

Do this instead: Keep it simple. Try to keep your menu to no more than three to five items. Any more than that and callers will start to feel lost and confused.

Related: Personalization Is Giving Customers What They Want Before They Demand It

2. Making it difficult to speak with a human

One of the most common complaints people have when it comes to IVRs and automated answering services in general is how difficult it is to speak with an actual human being. After all, sometimes callers have actual issues that only a human can understand, or simply prefer to talk to a person as opposed to an IVR.

Do this instead: Take that complaint off the table by offering a way to quickly and easily get in touch with a representative right away. Don't make them wade through lists of options to find it.

3. Using cookie-cutter prompts

Many businesses get caught in the trap of being bland and mediocre when it comes to their automated prompts for their IVR. Using boring old voice prompts that every other business uses isn't going to win your brand any points in the minds of your callers.

Do this instead: Remember the IVR is branding your company. Your IVR is your company's -- and your brand's -- first impression, so make it a good one. Avoid bland, boring, or confusing language, and make sure you're using a voice that your customers can relate to and trust.

Related: 5 Ways to Build Killer Relationships With Customers

4. Trying to do too much with an IVR

Don't try to get too much information out of your caller before getting them through to the appropriate place. Remember, the less information you ask from them, the better. Keep it simple.

Do this instead: Be sure you're not overcomplicating your IVR by asking for too much information from the caller. Only get the most pertinent information as to not lose the caller, and when in doubt, go back to the first point -- keep it simple.

Related: How Bots Can Make Communication More Human

5. Not asking for feedback

One thing many business don't do enough is ask their customers for feedback. How will you know which aspects of your IVR are helping or hurting your business without actually asking customers?

Do this instead: Devise a plan to have your team ask callers for feedback on your new IVR system. It can be a survey or a simple question -- "What did you think of our answering system?"

Now that you know the common mistakes to avoid when it comes to answering calls to your business, use the five tips above to improve communications and customer satisfaction.

Related: Business Phone Systems Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Business Phone Systems

Steve Harvey

VP of Worldwide Sales and Service, Digium

Steve joined Digium in February 2007 and was initially responsible for driving Digium revenue through worldwide channel development, strategic OEM and Business Development.  As Digium has migrated toward a higher mix of cloud based Unified Communication services, Harvey recently took on responsibility for all customer facing activity including Global Sales, Customer Success and Technical Support. Prior to joining Digium, Harvey was vice president, Enterprise Networks and Competitive Service Provider Sales for ADTRAN, where he was responsible for designing and developing the company's overall channel strategy. Under Harvey's leadership, ADTRAN's Channel and Competitive Service Provider revenue grew to account for nearly 50% of the company's overall revenue. Harvey holds a BS in Computer Science from Indiana University.

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