It's the little phone things that really irritate clients

You've invested in service building programs, you have high firm standards for products going out to your clients, but wait! It's your phone manners that can undo your best client service efforts.

Put your best phone forward. Clients appreciate prompt, courteous attention when they call your firm. Make sure they don't have to go through telephone system twister to get to you. Offer a direct line when possible. Always ensure that your clients have a backup contact in case you aren't available. Use caution if you screen phone calls. Callers may feel they are not "important" enough for you to take their call or worse, when you pick up the phone, you don't even know who it is!

To leave or not to leave a message. You know the drill. You get a friendly voice mail greeting that has a message of the day, two alternate contacts and a fax number and just in case that's not enough… you may dial "0" to get to the operator. Businesses and the people in them operate at mach speed in the 90s. Make sure your team's voice mail greetings respect callers' time. Let them know at the beginning of your greeting that if they want to leave a message, they can press "8" now and skip the greeting.

Set some standards. Who wants to be routed to Larry just to have him grumble, "Hello?! Can I help you?" I bet none of your clients do! Implement a firmwide mission to say "No!" to bad phone answering. A simple script for answering the phone might be: Good (morning, afternoon), Name of your company, this is Name of employee. This ensures that your clients will get the same, consistent greeting time after time.

Say thanks. Seems kind of funny, huh? Didn't they call you? The point is, though, to end the call on a positive note. Recap with your client what you will do for him/her and thank him/her for calling. Your clients are the reason you are here…after all.

Do what you say. If it's been said once, it's been said a thousand times. If you promise in your voice mail greeting that you will promptly return a call, then promptly return a call.

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