Though more and more initial contact occurs online, often the first human interaction you have with your customers is through the people who answer your phones. It’s the rare business that never has phone contact with customers, so pay attention to this aspect of your company. One of the companies I work with changed their receptionist’s title to “Director of First Impressions.” (We’ll talk more about titles in Chapter Four, so don’t run out and change everyone’s title before you read at least that far.) Not only did that change make the receptionist feel valued, it let the customers know that they too were very important to the firm. When your employees feel important, they take their jobs more seriously and they are more likely to communicate the company’s values to the outside world. So, think about what your first impression is communicating. When you get trapped in the automated voicemail loop, how important do you feel to the company on the other end of the phone? I feel like they don’t want to talk to me, but I’ll bet nine times out of ten they have a mission and vision statement on the wall that says otherwise.
I’m guessing you didn’t scrimp on your website. Does it really cost that much more to have a friendly voice answer the phone? Probably not when you do a full cost-analysis—the number of customers you keep happy will more than pay the cost of a friendly greeting when someone calls. Now, assuming you have a person to answer the phone and your three words are “hungry, humble, and smart,” what would that person have to do to communicate that culture? My guess is: pick up the phone quickly (smart), know exactly what to say (smart), be gracious when customers are upset (humble), and try to get customers to the right person to have their needs met quickly (hungry). Make sure your phone is being answered by someone who represents your culture, or you’ll be judged based on theirs.
One of my clients owns a special effects equipment manufacturing company. They are a group of very friendly, creative people. They answer the phone by saying, “Thank you for calling CITC, where cool stuff is show tough!” How can you not help but smile when you hear this? Answering the phone this way tells the caller that these people are fun and creative, and that they appreciate the call. In other words, the greeting clearly reflects the company’s culture.
Your marketing materials should also reflect your culture. Most marketing people could take a company that was “hungry, humble, and smart” and weave that culture into any product line from its packaging to its advertising. (If they don’t start with your culture, you really need a different marketing company.) What you wouldn’t want to see is an ad campaign that was misaligned with the company culture. Most products and services are available from several companies, but most cultures are unique.
Knowing that your culture is your most significant opportunity to differentiate your company from your competitors, make sure yours shows in your marketing materials and most importantly on your website. If your website frustrates your customers and potential customers, inevitably they are going to wonder how your company is going to take care of their business. We’ve all had the experience of going to a website only to encounter the “under construction” or “down for maintenance” banner, or links and tabs that go nowhere. Or the site is so difficult to navigate you can’t possibly find what you’re looking for in one or two clicks. Or how about my personal favorite: when you can’t find a phone number. That just screams, “Don’t call me!” If you prefer that people contact you via email (which is fine), make sure someone responds within twenty-four hours. If you don’t, it says volumes about what your culture is and how you’ll treat that customer in the future, if you get the chance.
Everyone at your firm (your salespeople, account managers, service people, etc.) should “touch” the customer in a way that is consistent with your culture. If you hire for culture, you won’t have difficulty training this. If you do not, you’ll have to make some changes. Every customer interaction is a reflection of your company and you. Make sure every interaction demonstrates the correct image of your company.
Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.