If You’re Going to Have a Phone, Use it Right

July 15, 2013

I’m working on an article about current business conditions in the rental market and having gotten into the habit over the past year or so of contacting people more through e-mail and social media, I decided this time it would be fun and maybe more efficient to use the old-fashioned telephone. I don’t have a lot of time so I thought I’d like to get some immediate response. From some of the responsesI’ve gotten from people answering the phone, I’m getting the idea that the telephone really is outdated, because some people don’t seem to have ever used one before. And since in 2013 people use smartphones a whole lot more, it doesn’t mean they don’t use what we now call landlines. And just because the phones are smart, it apparently does not mean the people using them fit that description.

          So today I’ve called about 15 rental companies looking for people, generally owners and managers, to talk to about how the rental industry is recovering from the recession. I hadn’t been thinking about telephone etiquette before starting on this project, but I’m definitely thinking of it now and I’m quite amazed that it’s still, apparently, a huge issue in the rental business. About half of the calls I made I got an automated system. That’s OK, I get that, it’s common nowadays, but I can’t help thinking that if I was a contractor looking to find a piece of equipment and didn’t want to wait all day for callbacks, I might like to get a real person on the phone.

          If I did get a live person on the phone, I might like to talk to somebody who was friendly and ready to help. In one case I called and asked for the owner by name, asking if he was in. The person answering the phone – and I get that he may have been busy at the counter – answered “No” and hung up. I thought, I must be on hold, but after waiting a few minutes I realized he wasn’t coming back. I called back, again asking for the owner by name, same guy on the phone told me “Hold on” and put me on hold. I could tell I was actually on hold because the time was clicking on my phone screen, and after more than five minutes of waiting in total silence, the line went dead.

         Not to be deterred, I called a third time, this time a different person answered, and he also said “Hold on” and put me on hold. After close to three minutes, I was put into a voicemail system but I didn’t hear the owner’s name or voice, it was just a generic computer voice telling me to leave a message after the tone. I left the message and hung up, wondering if the call reached the intended person.

         A couple of other phone answerers were clipped and almost rude until I got the recipient of the day, inspiring me to write this blog. I asked for the owner, he told me “he retired” and hung up the phone. Did this person know who I was or why I was calling? Did he know for sure I wasn’t interested in renting equipment? Maybe that owner retired but he’s the person I know at that company so I call and ask for him, right? Even if he has caller ID and it read “Penton Media,” would he know for sure I wasn’t calling to rent equipment? Of course not. I called back and said, “Hey, I’m the guy who just called asking for ‘John Doe’ ” and he rudely hung up again.

         I’m restraining myself from mentioning the names of these rental companies in this blog. If it happens again, I might re-think that.

         Several of the people who answered the phone today were professional and polite as you would expect, either taking the message themselves or transferring me to the recipients’ voicemail. But more than half were either inefficient or downright rude and I was very shocked to find that this industry still faces this kind of issue.

         Maybe business is so fantastic that you don’t care if your staff alienates customers or potential customers. I know business is better this year, but it’s not that good, nor should it ever be.

         So yes I know that more business is being transacted electronically than in the past, and a lot of regular customers call or text to a particular salesperson when they want to rent equipment. But a whole lot of rental business is still done the old-fashioned way, with people calling in by phone. And if you can’t answer the phone in a professional way, maybe you need to look for a different type of work. Most of you reading this are probably owners and managers and it could very well be your own staff is letting you down through a lack of professionalism.

       Maybe you’re busy now, business is better and it’s summertime and the rentals are easy, but I suggest you consider monitoring how your staff is doing on this very simple sales technique. There are a lot of available programs and trainers that can help with teaching professional telephone etiquette.

       A couple of you might be thinking, “Roth, this is old stuff, and you’ve written about it before, don’t you have anything new to write about?” Yeah I do, and I was working on that but I got distracted by this very old issue that, sadly enough, hasn’t gone away, even in the rental industry in 2013.