Every year at the International Pool & Spa Expo, we host an awards breakfast for our Top 50 Builders and Masters of Design recipients. After the invitations go out, I usually need to call a number of the attendees to confirm various details.

This year, I tried a little experiment. As I placed the call, I put myself in the mind-set of a potential customer. How was the phone answered? If there was automated voice mail, was it easy to navigate? If a live person came on the line, were they polite?

The results surprised me. First of all, the percentage of companies that used a computerized phone system was lower than I would have thought. Of those that did, about half were adequate to the task, though nothing replaces old-fashioned human contact. The other half were complex and frustrating. The worst came when I was told to “press 1 for sales” only to be greeted by another recording that instructed me to leave a message. (Actually, I take that back. The worst was the one company I called that had nothing but a cell phone with a full mailbox. I’m sure that “system” makes their competitors quite happy.)

As a homeowner considering a major purchase, I want to feel valued. If no salesperson is available to pick up the phone, it seems like a good idea to have an outgoing message that (1) apologizes for the inconvenience, (2) tells the customer how important their call is and (3) gives an exact time frame when someone will get back to them.

It wouldn’t hurt to implement a rule that drives home that point. For example, my son’s school has a policy that all phone calls or e-mails made to staff members will be returned within 24 hours. Period. Such rules are part of what makes the institution so successful.

Of the pool companies I contacted that had a live receptionist, the treatment I received also was mixed. Many of them were quite friendly and efficient. In addition, a few businesses had messages playing for people on hold that provided customized information about the firm.

I found this particularly effective. However, some of the receptionists sounded decidedly unenthusiastic and, in two cases, bordered on hostile.

Again, if I am a consumer, I want to believe the pool company I’m considering is genuinely happy to hear from me. As a business owner, it might pay to quietly listen as your receptionist answers calls to get a sense of his or her professionalism, and provide feedback if needed.

It’s no secret that the pool market is slowing. Every lead is becoming increasingly important. The first impression a prospective customer gets of your company can set the tone for the entire interaction. With a little effort, you can ensure that the voice of your business sounds sweet.

Erika Taylor
Erika Taylor