If you’re an overachiever like me you didn’t build your business so you could be a slave. Sadly many of us are or were in our recent past. The time had come for a vacation. A long one. My business wasn’t ready for that yet.
As my small business began to grow beyond me we immediately began having bottlenecks with our customer facing communication systems. Specifically our phone systems or the utter lack thereof.
I had worked for over 2 years to generate these inbound sales leads and now they’re falling between the cracks. Don’t even get me started about all the telemarketers hounding my phones seemingly day and night. I once had loved when my phone rang! Now I hated it. Vacation? Pshhhh.
Clearly I wasn’t going to be able to step away from the business for even a short period without bombs going off, customers being ignored and so on. Does this problem sound familiar? In this post I’m going to share features of our new virtual PBX system that helped me get away for several months and how it actually changed the business altogether.
We’ll cover how the phone system…
- Helped us filter junk calls
- Routes calls to whoever is available (more importantly, not to those who aren’t)
- Works flawlessly with smartphones in the field
- Gave us additional time to answer calls reducing missed calls
- Establish reliable business hours to enhance staff scheduling
- Help pre-sell and pre-qualify callers to aid sales staff and reduce deadbeat callers
- Helped route callers to the appropriate person and brand our business
- Provided call auditing and quality control
- Helped manage overflow and after hours calls
- Helped us understand and manage our business better
Needed a phone system to filter out all the junk calls
We would get upwards of 12 calls a day from telemarketers, but which calls are telemarketers? That was really hard to tell as many of our clients had phone numbers from areas with similar numbers. It was simply impossible to know which calls to take and which to ignore.
By implementing a simple phone tree with a greeting and just 3 options we drastically reduced these nuisance callers. I say reduced because every once in a while someone actually makes it through the phone tree to sell us something.
We wanted to keep our phones open for other calls because sometimes they actually have a legitimate reason for calling. Having this easy to navigate menu made it easy for our clients to get what they need and for other callers to leave us a message we could return if appropriate.
The phone system needs to route calls to whomever is available
Taking a 9 month vacation and expecting my staff to play hot potato with the cell phone would have ended badly. We needed a phone system that could route calls, but not just to everyone, only to whomever was available.
We chose a phone system that had a user management system. Later I’ll cover how this relates to connecting to the right department also, but here it was more about routing calls to available staff. Having user management allows people to log in and out and change their availability helping the system see who is available to take calls.
In the rare instance where no one is available, calls are routed to a department voicemail and everyone assigned to that department receives an email that a voicemail is available with a link to listen to the recording.
The system we chose uses a feature called a call blast (you can also use a round robin or escalating mode). This means when a call is coming in the phone of every person who is assigned to the department chosen by the caller and is currently accepting calls would start ringing. The first person to pick up is connected to the caller. Our system allows you to be logged in making outbound calls, making notes etc, but not accepting inbound calls, make sense?
Round Robin: Sends calls to users based on idle time.
Escalating: Sends calls to users in the order chosen by administrators.
Call-Blast: Sends calls to all phones at once.
The phone system needs to work flawlessly on smart phones phones in the field
Being a small field service business we don’t have an office space nor the funds for a person to sit in the office if we had one. Calls need to be answered by experienced technicians wherever they might be. This means cell phones (we prefer the Apple iPhone 6 Plus 64GB as we also use iPad Airs and the integration is spot on).
Cell phones make everything more complicated. Especially if the phone doesn’t belong to the company, but that’s an entire different blog post. For now we used only company phones, but the system is designed to be scalable with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the future.
Some challenges with cell phones are making outbound calls, but not revealing the mobile number of the caller. We didn’t want clients to have direct cell numbers for us. They’d be too tempted to just call our cell phones ruining all the work to get rid of this problem.
The virtual pbx service we chose has a native app for both iPhones and Android devices. This allows you to call from your cell phone, but use your company phone number as the caller ID. This also utilizes all of the other features of the phone system such as call recording, call reporting etc.
Calls come in to the cell phone just like any call. However we have a contact set up in the phone that displays “Incoming company call” so the tech knows the call is coming from us and he needs to answer. This eliminates answering wrong numbers, rogue calls, telemarketers etc.
Another problem with cell phones is they all have their own voicemail inbox per device. This is a mess if your staff declines calls and sends them to their phones voicemail only to never check those voicemails again. Not good.
We disabled each cell phones voicemail so they can’t accept them and we also utilized a setting in the phone system where each cell phone will only ring for about 25 seconds and the system hangs up, then calls again repeating this process. If there’s no answer after several attempts the caller is sent to the phone system voicemail, not to anyones cell phone voicemail. Problem solved.
The phone system needed to give us time to answer the phone
Since we’re service techs in the field we’re never holding still. We want to talk to our clients, but the 30 seconds or so that a cell phone gives you before a call goes to voicemail just isn’t enough. Whether we’re with a client, driving, working or other tasks, we needed a few more seconds to get to a place where we can take the call.
The feature we just discussed whereby the system calls for 25 seconds, then hangs up and repeats this until answered is part of a hold queue feature. This feature allows callers to be placed on a hold by the system while all these phone are ringing away. We were able to set and test the length of hold time that people would tolerate. We settled on 5 minutes.
With 5 full minutes to get to the phone our dropped or missed call rates have plummeted. With 6 full ring cycles on a cell phone it’s very easy for one of us to get away and grab the phone. This feature also helps us to weed out telemarketers. If the call ends after just one ring cycle, it wasn’t a customer or they hung up.
This also helped me to manage staff who had many excuses for not answering the phones, not enough time being one of them. My thinking was if we couldn’t answer the call in 5 minutes we either weren’t trying or were truly unavailable.
Our phone system needed to establish business hours
With so many people now taking call the phones we couldn’t simply let anyone call at any waking hour. Our business has set hours of operation and we needed our phones to follow those.
This helped manage employee scheduling and accountability. It also helps keep customers and telemarketers honest, not trying to call late at night or way too early in the morning. We’re on the west coast, apparently east coast telemarketers are morons and can’t figure out they’re 3 hours ahead, so 6:30am….yea that’s 3:30am here folks. And you wonder why we hate you.
So many of us who use cell phones as our primary line abhor when people call late at night, early in the morning or on weekends. Not everyone hates this, but you should. If you don’t set client expectations, you’ll have a customer mad that they couldn’t get ahold of you though it was Sunday and you were at a funeral. We don’t have these problems thanks to our phone system.
We do set the phones to turn on 30 minutes before we open and stay on 30 minutes after we close. This helps that customer who always calls at the last minute and ensure we don’t play phone tag with them. It’s a small price to pay and it’s manageable.
A phone system that could pre-sell AND pre-qualify callers
With me out of the picture I needed to leverage my skill, experience and knowledge to help my staff close sales and grow the business. How could I possibly do that if I’m nowhere to be found?
Using a greeting as well as a custom hold message (we had this made by Joel on Fiverr at a cost of about $35, listen to it below) helped me articulate the most common sales objections, questions and other key marketing messages to every caller in the exact same way.
Now callers hear our custom greeting so they know immediately they have the right place, they are routed to the proper department for service and while waiting for us to pick up they are hearing a custom hold message (listen to our message below) that sells them on our experience, education, add on services and more.
This not only helps warm people up for when we do answer, but it also helps weed out the wrong people too. They might hear something in our message that turns them off like finding out we don’t provide phone quotes. If they are calling for phone quote, they’ll hang up. I see that as time saved for my staff. This has won over my staff. For the most part they tell me callers are ready to schedule when they pick up. Priceless.
Listen to our professionally recorded hold message:
The phone system needs to route calls based on callers needs
Do we have complex call routing needs today? Nope. However it has benefits.
First off this is what I call a moment of truth for a caller. Our system is very simple, it has 3 options only. Residential, Commercial and everyone else. When someone has to make this choice they feel more confident in the person answering the phone by nature. This gets rid of the “am I calling the right place” question. Where people get mad is systems that are a maze and too complex. We avoided that.
Another benefit is setting ourselves up for scaling the business. Someday we may have much more complex needs.
This most beneficial part of having this routing setup is understanding our call volumes. We’ll cover this in the auditing and the management points below.
A phone system capable of call auditing and quality control
Having the ability to delegate quality control as well as staff coaching in my absence was really important both to the success of the business and to my peace of mind. Let’s face it everyone has a bad day, but when you have a bad apple you need to know and work with those team members to improve.
Because our pbx phone system is virtual it can be accessed anywhere you have web access including on my iPhone with the native app. This made periodic checks to ensure calls were being answered, voicemails returned and hear the overall conversation quality a sinch. Though I’m happy to say my team did a great job and I eventually checked in very rarely.
In the future I’d love to set up a remote user to manage this for me and only alert me if there are quality issues or immediate concerns. (Blog post on using Upwork.com (formerly oDesk.com) for this)
A service to manage overflow during peak times and after hours calls
Because my team was losing my extra hands to help manage workload and overflow I wanted to set up a service to take my place. This meant being able to transfer unanswered calls to the service for help. We couldn’t just hire an independent to help here, it needed to be professionals. Happily we found a very reliable partner who understood this problem very well and had a great solution.
During business hours our phone system routed any call that went unanswered after 5 minutes to the answering service. This helps with peak call times. They had scripts provided by us as well as access to our schedule for bookings. This enabled them to help clients with common questions and set appointments. We only paid for closed bookings and got an email immediately as well as a call recording so we can manage quality.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Get a free copy of my phone scripts!
After hours all calls were routed to the answering service. This includes weekends and holidays. If they booked an appointment or took another message they’d email straight away. If they weren’t available calls were routed to a department voicemail directly in our software where they could leave a message. I’ll just say this rarely happened and was probably overkill. It was good to have developed though as it may come in handy as we scale up.
The phone system needed to be management friendly
Management is the core of any business and if you can’t measure or quantify something, you can’t improve it. Having a cloud based phone system allowed us access features that shed light on business problems we didn’t even know we had. An example was peak call times and overflow which we now route to Perceptionist. Also which people weren’t answering and why other people were taking all the calls. Getting this problems under control was key to me stepping away with peace of mind.
Running reports, tracking metrics and using call data such as average call time, missed calls, inbound vs outbound calls by person etc helped me understand where the hotspots were and address them with my team.
My favorite reports are call duration and calls answered by user. I could see why some people weren’t selling well as their calls were way too short and then again others were way too long. Also it became very clear who was taking the most calls and why their performance was so much better. These insights help me hold my team accountable. With everyone aware that these metrics are being monitored it creates honesty and transparency that can’t be argued.
With all of this in place it made taking 9 months away from the business so much easier. What’s even better? This virtual phone system never gets tired, never has a bad day and never calls in sick! It works perfectly 24/7.
I would never build even a single person or thousand employee business again without a proper phone system. The technology is so powerful and so affordable is just doesn’t make sense to struggle managing your team, losing business, upsetting customers, hating your phone and be unable to scale your business.
Early in the business I had tried to implement this system, but it was too early. I couldn’t see the value or understand how to make it profitable. After all this growth and systemization enjoying my time away from the business was worth every penny and every minute spent developing our small business phone system.
Are you using a virtual pbx in your business or another type of phone system? Has it enabled you more freedom? What features do you love / wish you had?
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