How to Create Customer Focused Voice Mail Greetings

telephoneI left a voice mail last week for someone who promised to call me back at his earliest convenience.  His voice mail greeting didn’t ask me to leave a time when a return call would be convenient for me.  He didn’t say he would call back within four hours or one business day.  My call was going to be returned when it was convenient to him.

Now, in the grand scheme of customer service, this type of greeting is not a deal breaker.  I’m not sure anyone would slam the phone down in disgust and refuse to do business with someone because of that.  But being the nit-picky customer service person that I am, I believe that even seemingly insignificant customer touch points like a voice mail greeting is an opportunity to make the customer or potential customer feel important.  And I don’t mean adding the cheesy “Your call is important to us/me” line to your message.  That line probably causes more eye-rolls these days than moms and dads do when they speak to their teenagers!

Creating a customer focused voice mail greeting means taking into consideration the person who is calling you.  Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t speak too quickly, too loudly or to softly.  The caller needs to be able to understand what your greeting says.
  2. Change your message if you are going to be away for an extended period of time.  Don’t forget to change it back when you return!
  3. Let the caller know when they can expect a call back or better yet, ask the caller to leave suggested times when he or she will be available.  It helps avoid the dreaded telephone tag.
  4. If possible, provide an alternate contact name and number if immediate assistance is required.  The alternative “press 0” is appropriate if you also provide the name of the other person. This saves the caller from having to explain what is needed to the person at front reception.

By the way, the message I left last week has still not been returned.  It has been four business days. While the message may not be a deal breaker, no response to the message could be.  Perhaps he is away on holidays, forgot to change his message and will call back with an apology when he returns.  Perhaps something unexpected is keeping him away from the office.  It happens.

When thinking about your voice mail greeting, also think about who can change your voice mail greeting for you (create an outline or script for that person) and pick up and respond to messages left prior to the greeting being changed.

Getting the voice mail greeting right costs nothing except the time it takes to record it, but it can make the difference between a positive or negative first impression. In customer service, we need to create as many positive impressions as we can, so don’t leave that all important first one to chance.

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An Example of Above and Beyond Service

Woman shopping at the supermarketThe last time my mom went for groceries, she was having trouble finding an item. One of the employees saw her and asked her if she needed help finding something. She said yes, told him what it was and he led her to the aisle he believed the item was in. My mom had been there already but knew it was possible she had just missed it. Turns out it wasn’t there.  The product wasn’t a make or break item on her list, so she thanked him for trying, found the rest of her items and went to stand in the check-out line.

She had been in line for just a few minutes when the same employee tapped her on the shoulder.  He had found what he thought she was looking for and then took the time to look for her and bring it to her.  It wasn’t exactly, but was a close enough substitute that she said yes. He then went one step further and asked if she needed more than one, because if she did, he would quickly run and get some more.

This service professional went way above and beyond what my mom expected.  But the story doesn’t end there.  According to my mom, she has yet to be served by anyone in that store who is not professional, friendly and focused on the customer. That kind of consistency does not happen by chance.  That kind of consistency happens when there is a strong service culture in place, instead of a culture of apathy and doing just enough to get by.

I would venture to guess that the people responsible for leading the entire team have been known to go above and beyond with their internal customers. They have created service standards and provided their team members the tools, resources, support and personal example to live up to those standards. Their laser sharp focus on service and on their customers, both internal and external, create an environment where service flourishes.

Each and every service individual needs to own their own role in the customer experience.  Bad management and lack of support is not an excuse to perform at a lower standard. At the same time, management needs to own their role.  When service levels are low or inconsistent, everyone needs to look in the mirror and ask “What do I need to do to change our environment from a culture of apathy to a culture of service?”

Feedback Frenzy or How to Improve Survey Response Rates

rateoursurveyMy husband and I recently stayed at a hotel that we will definitely go back to. The facility was lovely. The rooms were beautiful and the service was excellent.

Today I received an email asking me to complete a survey regarding our stay.  Sigh … it was not completed.  Here’s why:  way too many questions asking me to rate, on a scale from 1 – 10, our satisfaction with how the room smelled, their choice of TV’s and television channels, cleanliness of the room, comfort of the pillows, etc. , etc., etc.  I quit after page five.

There are a whole lot of stats on-line about customer response rates to surveys.  The stats are dismally low and I’m guessing it’s because the survey formats are so bad.  Too often these feedback forms ask way, way, way too many questions.  If the survey had looked something like the following, I would have completed it.

Did you enjoy your stay with us?        Yes       No

How would you rate the service you received?       Amazing        Fine        Lousy

How would you rate the hotel facility, amenities and services?       Amazing        Fine        Lousy

Will you return the next time you are in the area?        Absolutely     Maybe      Not a Chance

Will you refer our hotel to your family, friends or colleagues?   Absolutely     Maybe      Not a Chance

Any other comments you’d like to share?

May we contact you for further information on your responses?   Yes    No

Here’s what I would have loved to say under any other comments: “Beautiful hotel with wonderful, service-minded staff doing their utmost to ensure a positive stay.  We will be back and we will refer others.”

If you really want to know your customer’s thought about their interaction with your business, shorten your 50+ questionnaire to six or seven questions, max.  What do you really, really need to know?  Focus on those questions and then dig deeper with the people who give you permission to go into further detail.

Your customer service survey is another customer touch point.  It’s an opportunity for you to delight or frustrate your customers. Ask yourself “Does my customer want to spend 10 minutes filling out all these ‘on a scale of 1-10’ questions?”  If the answer is ‘no’, why are you doing it?


What Makes Your Customers Angry, Frustrated or Upset?

angryman2About three years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating customer service workshops for a client. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?”, one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”

There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up.  And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather.  When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of.  Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:

Unrealistic expectations:  Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t.  Now ask yourself,”Why don’t we offer this product or service?  Is this something we can do?”  If the answer is yes, make it happen.  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.

Policies and procedures:  I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am.  He ordered the Denver omelette. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich.  No problem with that order!

Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures.  Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer?  Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative.  I imagine my friend would have share the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”  (Or perhaps have separate menus for breakfast and lunch to avoid that confusion all together.)

Human error: This list could get long.  Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.

External factors:  There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue.  Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news.  There are some external factors you can pretty much count on.  Plan for those.  For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded.  Put a plan in place to deal with that moment.  Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy.  What can you do to help them pass the time?  Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work.  Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?

Two important things to remember when confronted by an angry, frustrated or upset customer are:

Don’t take the anger or frustration personally. Sometimes the person is angry with you because you are a handy target. They are angry or frustrated and they need to express it. It may not be fair but it happens.

View complaints positively. Instead of looking at them as a negative, look at them as opportunities to improve your conflict management skills and the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.

And one last suggestion, this is a great exercise to incorporate into your next team meeting.  Get your team together, ask them to identify when and why their customers are not happy and to come up with potential solutions to either eliminate or minimize the frustration.  This activity generates some laughs, group sharing and some great ideas.

Do You Know Your Service Delivery Cracks?

Service delivery cracks are those areas in a business where customer expectations fall between the cracks.

Every business has them.  It’s important to know what yours are so steps can be taken to fill in the crack or at the very least, reduce the size of the service delivery crack.

For example, some hotels have only one person working at the front desk.  After regular hours, that means the front desk agent is also the housekeeping and maintenance departments.  At some point, during an eight hour shift, the front desk will be unattended.

When a guest arrives at a hotel, the expectation is that there will be someone at the front desk to greet them and check them in.  When a guest arrives to an empty lobby, their expectation is now unmet.  That is a service delivery crack.

Let’s look at two very different ways this service delivery crack can play out.

Scenario 1:

A guest walks into a hotel after a long day of travel.  There is nobody around.  The guest looks for a bell to ring on the front desk.  Nothing.  The guest looks into the breakfast area, walks down the hall, looking for any sign of life.  Nothing. Because it’s late and the guest has a confirmed reservation, she waits. Someone has to come back eventually, right? After a very long six minutes, she notices someone coming down the hall.  The person is in uniform, notices she is there and walks over to the desk.  She goes behind the desk and asks “Name?” The guest provides her name; the agent checks her in, gives her the key and says “You are on the second floor.”  The guest takes her key, drags half her luggage up the stairs and then comes back for the last of it.  The lobby is again unattended; that means the last of her luggage was also unattended.

Scenario 2:

A guest walks into a hotel after a long day of travel. There is nobody around.  The guest notices a sign on the front desk that says “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you personally.  I’ve stepped away from the desk to assist another guest and will be back shortly.  Please have a seat in the lobby and help yourself to a complimentary cookie.”  The guest sits down and in about six minutes, she notices someone coming down the hall.  The person in uniform notices she is there, and with a friendly smile, says “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.  I imagine you are ready to get into your room.”  She goes behind the desk, asks for the guest’s name, confirms the details of her stay, gives her the keys and says “Your room is on the second floor.  I see you have quite a bit of luggage.  Let me help you get it to your room.”

In both cases, the lobby was empty when the guest arrived.  Both hotels have the same service delivery crack, but the hotel in the second scenario took steps to reduce the customer’s disappointment.

Take a look at your business from the customer’s point of view and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your customer’s expectations? How long do they expect to wait to be seated, to be greeted or for their food to be served? What type of information do they expect to be available for them?
  2. Where could those expectations be unmet?  If someone calls in sick, how will that impact the customer? Will it take longer for the food to be served or the room to be cleaned?  Will the line up at the till or the information booth be longer?
  3. What can you do to minimize or turn-around that negative moment? Do you let your customers know up front, before they sit down and get comfortable that a favourite item is not available or that the service time may be a little longer than usual today? Do you know what items, if any, you can offer as an alternative?  If you are not able to provide the product or service, do you know who can?

Service delivery cracks, service breakdowns happen.  Spend some time upfront identifying where a customer breakdown could occur and then develop a plan on how to minimize the negative impact.

Your customers don’t care why the service breakdown happened. They don’t want excuses; they want alternatives.  They want you recognize their disappointment and take steps to reduce that disappointment where possible.

Your thoughts?