Improving Customer Service

Issue # 32 of 70 

John T. Self, Ph.D.
By: Dr. John T. Self

It's All In The Voice

All businesses use telephones. That's pretty much a given. What is not given is the effective use of the phone in customer service. The phone is kind of like the pass in football: there are possible 3 outcomes and 2 of them are bad.

If anyone in your employ even has the remotest possibility of having to pick up and actually answer the phone, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who can answer the phone?
  • Do they know what to say?
  • Do they know how to say it?
  • Do they come across as knowledgeable after they say hello?

Know who can answer the phone.
This is not asking the musical question of who will probably answer the phone, but the much more important question of who might answer the phone. Remember our old friend, Murphy's Law, Rule #16: If your boss' boss or your best customer calls, then the worst employee MUST answer the phone. It is in your best interest to have everyone that might even remotely pick up the phone know the answers to the following.

Know what to say.
If your company has a stock greeting then everyone is expected to recite it when answering the phone. Managers, stock boys, secretaries, everyone who answers the phone. An easy way to ensure this happens is to put the greeting on a laminated card by the phone and make sure everyone knows where it is.

Know how to say it.
Say it with the appropriate volume level, say it with enthusiastic inflection and say it in an even, natural pace; not hurried and not drawn out. This point is especially important because it sends a clear message to the caller that they are important (or unimportant), even if the knowledge is apparent. Dull, monotone or hurried pace puts the caller in a negative frame of mind even before they have had a "real" opportunity.

Come across as knowledgeable after the "hello".
Perfect greeting and inflection is not enough. Customers demand and expect answers when they call a company. Instant gratification. Ensure everyone can give directions, basic answers and can locate anyone. Again, just make a laminated map and place by the phone with landmarks and even a script from various likely locations. Make your own FAQ list (Frequently Asked Questions) and place by each telephone along with extensions. This is basic stuff, but remember that good service always comes from getting the "basics" down pat.

Finally, don't ask me if I mind being put on hold at the exact moment that you are putting me on hold.


John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

Improving Customer Service #32 of 70: View all in the Table of Contents

For more customer service articles, visit the Customer Service series on the new Sideroad: Practical Advice Straight from The Experts.

Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.