In Lab - Archive

Handling calls from customers

by Cesare Soresina

In the previous issue, I mentioned the stages of the customer management process.
The first stage is about using the telephone.
There is an increasing tendency among customers to gain time. They have cell phones so it's more convenient to call the tyre retailer before they go there.
Basically, there are two reasons for calling: the first is to find out about availability and prices; the second is to fix an appointment so they don't have to waste time by waiting.
For the first reason, we must separate the quality of the phone call from its content.
Few retailers have automated attendants that tell customers to press 1, 2, or 3, depending on who they want to speak to. Luckily, the Android, as I call it, answers at the third ring with music, but when the call is transferred you have to start again from the beginning.
So, it is important for someone to be there, preferably the same person all the time or, even better, someone in the office who has been assigned to answering calls. If people take it in turns to answer, response times are longer because they are busy with a customer or with operators working on vehicles.
And you must answer by the third or, at the most, the fifth ring. This isn't easy because people and even office staff have other things to do and aren't waiting for the phone to ring. However, you must stop, take a deep breath and lift the receiver.
What do you say when you answer?
A good response to the call comprises:
A greeting: good morning, good afternoon or good evening.
The name of the retailer.
The first name of the person answering.
A question or silence while you wait for the customer to speak.
The order is not important. But it is useful if the appointed person gets used to answering with all the elements so that the customer knows that he/she has the correct number and that telephone relations are being personalized. I always advise trying out the sequence alone so that gradually you begin to "sound good" to your own ears. This is what is important. A parrot-style response is annoying for the person on the other end.
For example: never answer with a "yes?".
At this point the customer will speak. He may want to speak to someone in particular or he may just ask a question.
If he wants to speak to someone specific, ask for his name before you transfer the call. Never shout to someone with the line open. When the desired person answers, he must know who is calling so that he can greet the customer by name. If he can't come to the phone or can't be found, within fifteen seconds you must apologize, get the person's phone number, the reason for the call (someone else or the appointed person may be able to help) and return his call within a reasonable time, for example thirty minutes.
Now let's look at content.
The customer asks for technical information: if you don't know the answer you must transfer the call to someone else.
The customer asks about the cost of tyres: a very bad habit is not giving prices for fear that the customer won't come back so we rely on our ability to sell.
A good habit is asking questions. Which car, what size, two or four replacements, how long have you had them, preferred brand, etcetera. This encourages the customer to stay on the phone and shows that you are "looking after him". Here, too, the order of the questions is not important. Instead of giving one price, quote a range of prices from ... to ..., for one or more brands, until you find out if the customer prefers a Premium tyre or a cheaper tyre. Lastly, you invite him to come in so that a physical check of what the vehicle is used for and mileage will enable him to get advice that won't waste money.
I know some companies where people answering calls easily handle this type of request because they know about tyres and prices. And even if they don't, they can keep information about prices in a folder or on the computer. Learning content makes it easier to answer correctly and ask the right questions.
The customer asks about the availability of a type of tyre. In this case, I think that the operator will know how to access warehouse data in order to answer. If the question comes from a regular customer, the situation is normal. If it comes from a potential customer or follows a question about prices, you must be more careful. You cannot make promises that can't be kept. Above all, be sure that you have enough time to get in new supplies before making appointments.
Special tyres for top range or specific vehicles need an expert.
If it is a potential customer who asked about price first, an appointment must be fixed to let him understand the amount of attention he will receive.
How to fix an appointment.
The customer calls for an appointment. My advice is to do away with the old desk diary. Current PC programs have electronic diaries in a variety of forms. It is not enough just to write down the customer's name, a time must be fixed, a forecast of how long it will take to do the work, if necessary the type of tyres to be mounted, and confirmation that they are in stock or that they have been ordered. In particular:
Firstly, suggest two different days, then the morning or afternoon, lastly two possible times. Naturally, they must fit in with the retailer's expected workload, availability or the time for reordering. But it must also suit the customer: this is why you must suggest alternatives that are always good for us, too.
The name of the customer (proprietor) must be accompanied by the cell phone number, the vehicle model, registration number, number of kilometres, average kilometres per year, last change, if relevant, tyres and size requested.
Obviously, the electronic diary must correspond to a chart with data for inserting in the customer database. It is completed after the tyres are have been mounted and the job paid for, so that reference can be made to it in the future.
If the customer is a regular, all the important data should be available so it won't be necessary to ask for them when he calls. This will give a very good impression of professionalism.
Sometimes customers don't turn up. If they are more than 5%, the customer must be called the day before to confirm the appointment.
With regard to the database, remember that for customers who have left their winter (or summer) tyres in storage, the retailer must begin calling them ahead of time and always with the appointment technique. In this way, active customers won't cross over with customers coming for the first time to change seasonal tyres and therefore dissatisfaction, especially for the former, will be avoided.

In the next issue, the shop reception stage.

back to archive