A phone…your phone…your business phone. Whether it’s a landline, cellular or even satellite doesn’t really matter: it’s still a phone. And the phone isn’t just a phone. It’s a first impression and it’s a sales tool.
Kate Jonasse, owner of K-Tech Automotive and Pauline’s Automotive in Sebastopol, CA, says, “Even with digital platforms, the phone is important because it’s when they get to hear our voice and our tone and communicate with a live human being. Nothing takes the place of communicating with a live human being. The world has gotten so technical and impersonal that now we need to go back to having things be more personal and individual. We aren’t real to a customer if they just look at our digital platform — we get more real to them when we speak to them on the phone.”
Fully grasping the impact the correct phone policy has at your shop can have a big impact on your bottom line. It’s a key component of owning a successful business. “Phone handling is the number one skill for service writers as far as I’m concerned,” Jonasse says. “It will make or break a business. The number one purpose of the phones is to get cars in the door.”
It starts with knowing the different scenarios of incoming calls. Once you nail these down for your shop, you can then prepare policies and scripts for each. Yes, scripts. Training your team on how to handle customers — and what to say — using scripts, is an effective tool you should include in your policy and procedure arsenal.
Here are some topline phone procedure areas that you must pay attention to if you want to grow your business:
The shop is busy. Multiple calls are coming in. Customers are staring you down at the front desk. Techs are asking questions. All at the same time. It’s important not to get caught up in the tumult of a busy shop. The team members who are answering the phones must learn how to handle every call with respect and sincerity. Something as seemingly simple as training your team to smile when answering the call really helps. Try it yourself. That smile immediately is translated to the person on the other end of the call. And don’t forget the power of a “thank you” at the end of each call.
As an example, when you call a restaurant or you call a store to see if they have a particular item in stock, you can tell if that person answering is bored and just doesn’t care. It’s infuriating! And it’s a big turn off. You hang up and never want to frequent that business because of the way that employee dealt with you on the phone. Ensure your team is enthusiastic with each call that is answered.
As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to monitor calls and check that all team members are handling each call with genuine interest regarding that customer’s issue at hand. Jonasse says that the only way to know that a future employee has that attitude is to test them. “We do working interviews where I have prospective service writers do callbacks during the interview. I listen to how they talk to the customer and how they handle the various situations that come up and see if they can think on their feet.”
Many successful shop owners prepare phone scripts for their front desk. Not one script but many, each addressing a different scenario. These scripts should also grow and be added to as time goes by. Have them easily accessible for your team to review. Encourage each employee to make each their own with personalized language but having the basic script is a terrific guideline for anyone answering your phones. “I have phone scripts for callbacks and recommended repair calls that I got from DRIVE,” Jonasse says. “We use them diligently.” You should revisit them every quarter to make sure that every situation is included in your shop’s phone script playbook.
FOCUS ON EACH CALL
It’s not enough to be nice and it’s not enough to be informed. The employees put in charge of answering calls need to know how to slow a conversation down and not communicate any sense of being rushed. There’s nothing worse than feeling that an employee just wants to get off the phone.
Of course, it goes for any position at your shop, but that same focus you put into hiring great technicians also needs to be put toward hiring great front office staff. After that initial interview, put the best candidates through role-playing calls with you on the other side of the calls. Don’t expect perfection, but what you need to be cognizant of are attitude, friendliness, willingness to help. Those are the key components of a great front desk employee. And as Jonasse says, can they “think on their feet?”
KEEPING THE TEAM INFORMED
“Marketing makes the phone ring. It’s the service writer’s job to get the car in the door from that point on,” Jonasse says. You want your front desk to be armed with all information needed to set up appointments and increase car count. What you don’t want is to have your team members out of the loop on special promotions that you are advertising or other marketing actions being promoted to your customer base and community. Also, make sure they know of any public relation actions like a car giveaway or involvement in local contests. It’s not fair to your employees if you don’t keep them up to date on your shop’s initiatives. The last thing you need is to have someone call and ask about an advertised special and your employee doesn’t know about it. That’s on your shoulders to make everyone aware of the marketing you’re moving forward with. And that’s another reason in a long list of reasons for a daily meeting with your team.