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Friend or foe on the phone?

Our fast-paced world causes shorter attention spans and a greater sense of urgency. Customers often call us from a mobile phone while driving.  Efficiency is therefore vital for a great first impression! 

Telephone communication does not allow the luxury of body language, dress code, eye contact, professional surrounding and friendly rituals like handshakes, to impress customers. You merely have your voice to portray the way you wish to come across and that’s it. Therefore, the way we answer a call is crucial as it sets the tone for the rest of the conversation and determines how customers perceive your business.

Imagine that the customer calling you is new in town and did a Google search to find an optometrist. Google gave 200 results! She must now decide where to go. The call to your practice can be viewed as an audition. The key elements your customer wishes to find during the audition are respect, professionalism and efficiency. By following these guidelines, you will ensure that your customer is exited to meet the rest of your ‘cast’.

  • Answer the call on the second or the third ring, as answering on the first ring may catch the caller off guard.
  • Always, always, always have a smile in your voice. It portrays energy and a willingness to assist.
  • First say your greeting, followed by the practice name and lastly your name – then keep quiet! “Good morning, Foureyes optometrists, this is Karen speaking.” You gain trust by giving your name, showing that you take full responsibility for their enquiry. Speak slower than usual and pronounce the ends of the words clearly.  Keep in mind that we often speak to people from various cultures and languages.
  • Never answer the phone without having a pen and a notebook at hand.
  • If the person on the phone starts with; “do you test eyes?”, your reply will be: “I will tell you all about our comprehensive eye tests in a moment, but may I ask your name please?”. Write it down.
  • Use their name often! “Mr. Smith, at Foureyes optometrists we don’t just test your eyes. We take full responsibility for the well-being of your eyes. Our examinations include a variety of additional tests to ensure….” (Discuss the way you complete the sentence with your optometrist.) Complete the sentence by saying: “Would a morning or an afternoon appointment suite you best Mr. Smith?” This forced choice question can only result in an appointment, morning or afternoon. If you ask: “Would you like an appointment?”, the answer may well be no!
  • Once the appointment is made, confirm the information: “Mr. Smith, your appointment is booked for Tuesday afternoon on the 6th of November at 2:30 with Mr. Ross. Please remember to bring your medical aid card as well as all your existing eyewear so we can clean, check and adjust them for you.”
  • Never interrupt the customer while talking. We need to establish the real 
  • If you do not know the answer to the question, never say: “I don’t know that, but I will find out for you” or “I only started working here two weeks ago and will have to call you back with that information Mr. Smith.” NO! You simply say: “Mr. Smith, I am transferring your call to Susan who will answer all your questions on contact lenses”.
  • Transferring the call: “Susan, I have Mr. Smith on the line. He needs information about contact lenses for daily use.  I am transferring him to you now.” And Susan will say: “Good morning Mr. Smith, this is Susan. I understand that you need information on the use of daily contact lenses.  How can I assist you?” If you MUST place the caller on hold: “Mr. Smith, Susan is currently on another call.  Would you care to hold or would you like Susan to return your call in 5 minutes?”  Double-check the telephone number before hanging up and nag Susan to call the customer before the 5 minute expires.
  • When calling or returning a call: “Good morning, this is Karen calling from Foureyes Optometrists. Have you got a moment to talk to me now?” or “ I apologise for not being able to take your call earlier.  How can I assist you?” Please don’t ever say: “Good morning Mr. Smith. How are you?” before first identifying yourself, as well as the practice you are calling from.
  • An angry or rude caller can be very intimidating. Your main objective is calming them. Until you can get the customer to manage his/her emotions, you won’t be able to make any progress.  Stay calm! Listen patiently to their concern and acknowledge it.“I can’t blame you for being upset, Mr. Smith.  Let’s see how we are going to solve the problem today.”  Or: “I can certainly understand why you’re so upset Mr. Smith.  There’s no excuse for our mistake.  Here’s how I am going to rectify the situation….”  Do not shift the blame!
  • Some callers are hard to understand. They may talk too fast or may mumble, whisper, or misuse words.  Develop tactful ways of asking callers to slow down, speed up, talk louder, or speak softer.  “Mr. Smith, I am having difficulty hearing you.  Please speak up a little.”

In summary: Every time you answer your phone, do so with a positive attitude and a smile in your voice!  Let your customers end their call feeling that they have received respect, professionalism and efficiency!

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