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A recent post in a construction-related magazine discussed branding strategies for builders. I expected to read about the things you should incorporate in your business to develop the top brand for your business in your work area. Sadly, it was a sponsored post, which I guess means it was written by a supplier, because it discussed products you should install on your jobs to improve your “consistency and customer experience.” We used to call that advertisingProfessional Phone Use.

Anyway, the article is basically about what to install on your jobs and how that somehow builds trust with your customers. That advice, in my opinion, is a day late and a dollar short. Building trust always starts when you are first contacted by a potential client.

One recent morning, I returned a number of phone calls. Four of the contractors I called answered the phone with a not-so-impressive “Hello?”. Some of these contractors were apparently in an office, others sounded like they were on the job site, but that doesn’t matter. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you need to answer the telephone professionally. “Hello” is not professional.

I can’t emphasize proper telephone etiquette enough. We talk about it in-depth in Chapter 4 of Profitable Sales; A Contractor’s Guide, because answering the phone is the very first step in the sales process.

You should have a four-part response when you answer the phone. It goes like this:

“Good morning / good afternoon.”
A greeting that tells the caller that you’re having a good day, and you’re wishing the same for them.

“Stone Construction Services”
When you state the name of your company, it lets them know they’ve called the correct number.

“This is Michael.”
Let them know who they’re talking to.

“How may I help you?”
This is music to their ears. They are calling because they need help, and you’re offering it.

When was the last time someone answered your call with that response? When you answer your phone like that, you’ll have the caller’s full attention. They won’t believe their good fortune. “Wow, someone actually wants to help me.”

I suppose hearing “Hello” is better than getting voicemail, but only marginally. The worst response is when I hear, “We’re sorry, the mailbox for XYZ Construction Co. is full. Thank you for calling.”

If you’re a small business and carry your office phone with you on the job, you can still answer it professionally. The caller won’t know you’re wearing a tool belt or crawling under a house. They’ll know you’re willing to help them wherever you are.

To be sure this gets done right each time the phone rings, ask a neutral third party to call your number (all lines and at different times) to be sure your phones are being answered properly. Ask them to keep good notes and give you a weekly or semi-weekly report. Hold yourself and your employees accountable for the way the phone is answered.

Three more important things to discuss on the topic of phone etiquette.

First, don’t let your children answer your phone unless they’re old enough to be well-trained on how to handle a call.

Second, if you have an answering device that picks up calls after hours, make sure you return the calls. It’s the first of our Ten Cardinal Rules: Return all phone calls the same day or by 9 am the next morning.

Finally, if you have an automated operator that tells callers to press “1” to reach you, “2” for your partner, “3” to shop for groceries, “4” to file a complaint, then change it. A potential new client might just hang up and go away rather than listen to a machine present options. Button pushing is fun technology but it doesn’t make your company look large or important. It makes your company look cold and impersonal. If the phone rings and someone is available, that someone needs to answer it.

Your phone is the first chance you have to make a positive impression on a potential client. You never know who will be on the line; it might be a telemarketer or scammer, or it might be your next best client. Answer it professionally just in case.

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