Answer the Phone - It's Your Customer Calling

Last Updated Sep 23, 2010 7:04 PM EDT

Answer the PhoneWhat if, 25 years ago, someone had told you that over 100 million PCs would be sold in one year, someday? You would have been amazed. If that same person had told you that the biggest PC maker would also be the company that builds them to order and still makes them faster and cheaper than anyone else, you would have said that was impossible.

But Dell did it, back in 2001. Sure, the company's had its issues in recent years, but that's beside the point. Dell proved what nobody thought was possible. That a big company can be number one in a huge, growing, fast paced, highly competitive industry, and still stay connected with its customers.

And now, just about any company, no matter how big, can do pretty much the same thing. Not only can they, but these days, I would argue that they must if they want to remain competitive.

You see, our lives have become so complex and there are so many choices that customers have got to be able to quickly and easily connect with a human being for customer service or tech support. It doesn't have to be 24x7 for many, if not most, companies and products. But when you're open for business, somebody's got to answer the phone.

Maybe I'm getting a little ahead of the trend here, but I'm telling you, that's where we're heading. The days of long, frustrating sessions navigating some dopey automated phone system or website are numbered. It's not going to happen all at once and some industries will lag behind, but it will happen. Hell, it's already happening. In fact, company size is no longer even a factor when it comes to customer service.

Want examples? Been to an Apple store? The biggest tech company in America in terms of market cap, and you can walk right into a store and get help with anything Apple. Let's see Microsoft do that. Come to think of it, I bet your local reseller can't do that either.

I recently decided to dump my current security monitoring company because their service wasn't cutting it. So I contacted another local outfit that advertises a lot as well as the top nationwide company, ADT. ADT qualified me and scheduled an appointment for someone to come out the next day. In fact, the ADT guy had come and gone with a signed contract before the local company even returned my call.

Actually, I know plenty of small and midsized companies where you couldn't get hold of a person if your life depended on it. They won't be around a few years from now, guaranteed.

My absolute gold standard for business support is a company that makes espresso machines, Pasquini. It's an Italian company, but its U.S. operation is based in southern California. I bought my Livia 90 machine ( and a burr grinder) about 10 years ago from an online reseller. If you use them regularly, these machines are relatively high maintenance and there are no repair shops within a hundred miles of where I live.

But you know, I can call Pasquini 6 days a week and get a technical person to help me troubleshoot a problem and then ship a part out to me pronto -- with the appropriate PDF diagram. All these years I've maintained the machine with no service manual and they've never once asked me to register or pay for support services. Now that's customer service.

Bottom line: These days more than ever, big or small, your company needs to stay connected with its customers. That means answering the phone for customer inquiries, service, and support. And we're talking a human being or at least a super-artificially intelligent computer, not a dumb, drive-you-nuts automated phone system.

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Image courtesy CC 2.0 via Flickr user bobster855