Press 1 for English, Press 2 for Customers

A lesson in automated phone systems for alarm companies

Now before you take this “shopping of the competition” the wrong way, let me add that I do not believe in bashing any competitor. This does you no good, and often comes out like sour grapes to your customers or prospective clients. But when you offer the customer an opportunity to find out for themselves -- by providing information which they can then substantiate -- you may not only save a customer, but you may be helping them avoid making a big mistake.

As in all contact with customers, communication is the key. Developing relationships with customers begins with a personal connection. Answering the phone with a smile, and cheerfully directing the call to the proper place creates a golden moment of truth in the eyes of your customer. Imagine for a moment the following scenarios. #1: An upset customer calls to complain about the service they have received from your company. He is greeted by an automated attendant and is forced to sit and stew while he first must press 1 for English. Next, he gets to steam some more while he has to listen to the options menu. Finally he presses 7, and gets to leave a message for your customer service department to call him back. #2: A customer calls to complain about the service they have received from your company and is greeting by a cheerful voice who says, “Good morning, how may I help you?” He briefly explains his concern and is asked if he can be placed on hold for a moment, he’s then transferred to another live person who is immediately ready willing and able to listen to his problem and offer help.

How do you feel when you are the customer in this position? Which one of these companies adds value to the service they provide? Customer longevity is created by many moments of truth. What you say and how you say it, as well as how well you respond and follow up clearly nurtures a relationship of trust and loyalty. When mistakes are made (and they will be), you will have a considerably better chance at keeping this customer if you have a history of solid moments of truth with him or her. Automated attendants have “virtually” eroded business relationships to the point of creating frustration, anger, and higher cancellations.

To those of you who use automated attendants, why do you use them? In a past column, I wrote about the cost of cancellations for alarm dealers. I explained that it costs approximately $30 to get back one single dollar of lost recurring revenue. How much money do you save by incorporating the use of automated attendants when it creates a significant advantage for your competitors who don’t use such systems? Yes, it’s hard to go back, but I assure you it’s a big mistake not to. If you are able to do away with your systems and get back to a live operator, your customers will be thrilled!

Truly outstanding customer service means that everything you do revolves around anticipating and exceeding your customer’s needs. In the words of former UNUM Corp. chairman James Orr, “There’s no great mystery to customer satisfaction. We have all been and will continue to be customers, and we know what makes us happy.”

Positive impressions along with personal and caring, well-informed employees are what every customer wants. When you take out nearly as many alarm systems as you put in each month, you may want to look at all available ways to stop the hemorrhage. The current national attrition rate is approximately 10 percent. I assure you that if any company were losing 10 percent of its inventory to theft, swift action would be taken to turn the tide. Yet many alarm companies are losing 10 percent of their customers and are doing nothing proactive to change it.

A big problem in any industry is the ability to say, “I was wrong”. There’s another human nature issue which prevents us from effective communication while keeping an open mind. Can you guess what that might be? I’ll give you a clue: “Everything’s going OK.” You got it, “EGO”. Executives and management teams who have invested large sums of money in any technology or certain programs have a very difficult time getting past the fact that it may have been a mistake. When it comes to automated attendants, lack of employee training, stagnant growth, customer attrition, internal communication, and a host of other significant business challenges EGO can be anyone’s and any business’ worst enemy.