Several years ago, I was speaking with the owner of another service company in the parking lot of a local distributor. I was in a bit of a hurry, but I had to wait for the distributor to pull the part, and I do try to be friendly with other service guys I meet in my travels. A few moments into the conversation, my competitor’s cell phone began to ring.

“Go ahead and get that,” I said.

“That’s O.K.,” he said. “If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.”

Do you always leave a message when you call a business? I don’t. In fact, it is rare when I do.

There was no tone to follow indicating the caller had left a voice message. There was, however, a tone indicating that I was getting a call. I excused myself and answered the phone. The caller explained that he searched online for pool service companies and began calling them one by one until someone answered. Was this the same person who had called the pool pro standing in front of me only a few minutes before?

When I was in the retail end of the pool business, a portion of my customer interactions required that I take on the role of therapist listening to the woes of clients suffering from BPOS (Battered Pool Owner Syndrome). The abandonment issues were easy to diagnose.

“I’m looking for a pool service, but I can’t get anyone to call me back.”

“I can’t get my pool guy on the phone.”

“My pool service doesn’t return my calls.”

“Sometimes it will be a week before I hear from them.”

“They just stopped coming and I can’t get a hold of them …” etc.

This was definitely not the case for all customers that utilized a pool service, but I did hear it enough to realize that if I were to venture into the service field, I could set myself apart by simply answering my phone. Brilliant, right?

Eight years into owning my own service firm, I still make it a point to hit the receive button nearly every time my mobile buzzes. The only time I do not take a call is when I am standing in front of a customer, or at a customer’s pool. (That is their time). Luckily, those fancy cell phone gadgets we all have nowadays have a “missed call” log. These calls are returned the moment I get back into my truck. Calling back immediately is not as good as having answered the call in the first place, but runs a really close second.

I am extremely proud of both my customer service and marketing skills and would love to think that my advertising generates at least 70 percent of my leads, 30 percent due to word of mouth, but I am just as happy to gain new customers because my competitors ignored their iPhones.

Missed calls equal missed opportunities. I forward all calls from my office to my cell so that I am available at all times, especially when I am out in the field. You may get inundated with telemarketing calls, and you will occasionally drop a phone in a pool (mine went in the just other day), but the dollars spent on advertising (if you advertise) are wasted if you’re not picking up. If you do not currently advertise, the dollar value of each call you receive rises exponentially.

So, who’s calling? Maybe one of your existing customers. Having a live person on the line helps establish a lasting relationship with your client and generate positive word-of-mouth.

Maybe it’s someone calling based on a referral. The caller’s friend, neighbor, mother, pastor – what have you – says nothing but wonderful things, but if you are letting all of your calls go to voice mail this is probably not the case. Voice mail is for when you can’t be bothered and everyone sent there gets the message loud and clear.

A large percentage of the time, it’s the person scrolling through a list service companies online. Though all phone calls are extremely important, this is the call you cannot afford to miss.

Answering the phone is your opportunity to make a stellar first impression, set up an appointment, explain what sets your company apart, and ultimately, close the deal.

BTW: The customer call I took in the distributor parking lot three years ago is still on one of our routes today.

Rudy Stankowitz is the owner of Aqua-Caribbean, LLC, a pool service firm in Gainesville, Fla.