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What is everyone out there doing about phone calls? 95% percent of our work is service work (HVAC wiring, troubleshooting, residential lighting upgrades, portable gen hookups, etc.) As a result of that, our call volume is extremely high because our job volume has to be high. Small jobs = lots of jobs. I have two journeyman and one apprentice.

I've tried the answering service thing. I like the service but it got very expensive since we were being charged per call. On top of that it left me hours of messages to sift through. I feel that my lack of answering the phone live is bad for our customer service image but between selling jobs, estimating, project managing and so forth it is almost impossible for me to take calls during the day.

I've gotten to the point where we are more or less only taking calls from existing customers. The mailbox message directs new customers to the website to put in a service request which buys me time to get back to people and weeds out about half of our inbound calls.

What is everyone else out there doing? Is there a better way? Please don't say hire more guys! We are thousands of dollars into a two year hiring campaign that has included everything from direct mail to social media to Indeed to headhunters. Including very generous referral and sign on bonuses. You should see some of the resumes. I wouldn't let these guys wire a doghouse.

Thanks gentlemen.
 

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I just use a machine and you can call in every few hours to retrieve the messages. I would suggest stating that you check messages 2-3 times a day and you will get back to them
 

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First off, congrats on having so much call volume. That is a great problem to have.

Second, I agree with MikeFL. If you are getting that many calls, it might make sense to hire someone to answer phones. And if you really are that busy, I'm sure there are many other administrative tasks this person could help you do in addition to answering the phones.

Personally, I use Google Voice. If I can't answer, it goes to voicemail.
 

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If you hire someone with good office/phone skills you might be amazed at what (typically she but don't want to leave out guys) else this person might be able to handle for you. It does mean you need to have an "official" office.

It sounds like growing pains, congrats and good luck.
 

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If you hire someone with good office/phone skills you might be amazed at what (typically she but don't want to leave out guys) else this person might be able to handle for you. It does mean you need to have an "official" office.

It sounds like growing pains, congrats and good luck.
People and companies have gotten very good at working remotely this past year. I bet he could hire someone, set them up with a home office, and not have to keep an "official" office.
 

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Master Electrician - Ontario
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There is no doubt the answering service is the way to go, but if you are getting that many calls, then I would do a hybrid service, office person / receptionist in the day and the service in the off hours / weekends. You need somebody that can triage the real calls from the tire kickers and prioritize your work for you. Even if you get to the point where you have your feet up and are watching the hockey game, that is a better use of your time then sifting through tire kicker and salesmen calls.

One of the biggest things I hear from clients is that they are very happy when a "person" answers the phone and they are not in an automated queue or are directed to a website.

Cheers
John
 

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I've often thought that with call forwarding and cell phones answering the phone for a high volume business would be a great job for a stay-at-home mom.
You'd just call forward all the calls to her cell and she can go about her day and answer the phone as it rings. Give her a book or iPad to record the info and schedule the easy stuff. The hard stuff you'll want to call back anyway.
Pay her like 4 hours a day but she might not even work that.
 

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I would not spend the money on an answering service. Try an answering machine... I never found the answering service helpful when I called others.
 

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I have been installing phone systems forever. These days you can get very feature rich systems without spending a lot of money that give you tremendous flexbility, almost any call handling flow you could dream up, can be programmed, and is affordable, and will work with workers on premises, in the field, work from home, etc. pretty nicely.

A prospective customer does want to talk to someone. I can't fault them for this. They are prospects, not established customers, so they don't know you. If they leave a message, they are going to figure, correctly, one of three things will happen:

  • someone will return their call promptly
  • someone will return their call days later when they have already got three prices and scheduled their chosen contractor
  • nobody will ever return their call

So many, many people will hang up when they get voice mail and move to the next contractor in their search results. You spent all that money on the adwords or etc. and you blew it.

It is a difficult thing if you're a small business. If you're a big business, you have three or thirty or 300 people answering every single call and making sure every call gets the attention it deserves. If you're small, the cost of even one full time person is more than you want to spend. You can get an answering service, that's not a bad way to go, if you get a good one. If nothing else, you can just get them to greet the caller and hold while they track down someone to take the call. You can try to get someone to just answer a few calls a day working from home or on their cell phone, basically rolling your own answering machine, but you'll be pissed when that person takes a call at a noisy restaurant, or misses the call because they're one the phone with their mom, or etc.

I am pretty damn confident when I assure you there is no perfect answer to this, the only thing I could say is, factor in the cost of HANDLING the calls in your marketing and promotions, not just the money you spend to make the phone ring.
 

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@Walnuts240 I am not sure the cost of your answering service, but mine is about $100 a month. They filter 90% of the calls for me and we have a "code" that a client will use if they are to be put through to me immediately. If there is somebody that I want to talk to directly, that is the only time I will give out my cell phone number. If I get a number on my phone that I don't recognize, it just get ignored.

I would have to spend a lot more on the answering service to justify a person in the office just for that, but on the opposite side, I pay that same amount if the phone never rings either (which is pretty unlikely).

Cheers
John
 

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I am the office manager for an electrician. The one downside of an answering service versus your own receptionist/admin is that generally speaking (meaning, there are exceptions), your own hire will care more about giving the prospective customer "the warm fuzzies" than an answering service will. They also will, over time, even without industry specific knowledge, get better at the triage aspect that Navyguy mentioned. And as funkking and oldsparky52 mentioned, they will likely have other skills you can utilize, like bookkeeping or Excel or social media outreach. (Unless you are paying bottom of the barrel wages, in which case you may just get a body with a voice.) And of course, you don't necessarily need them 8 hours per day.

Good employees who take pride in their jobs will also come at it with an "ownership" attitude and likely do the little things that give a first-time caller a good impression. Such as letting the caller know you have a heavy schedule that afternoon and likely won't be able to return their call until first thing tomorrow, but will reassure the caller that you will prioritize making that call first thing - or is there a good time after hours this evening that caller will accept a phone call? Or that a panel change out requires a permit and even the express permit system takes a day to process, so why don't we go ahead and get that started?

A lot of small business owners like doing the 1099 contractor thing because it's less expense and paperwork, but in reality, most reception/admin types really should legally be classified as W-2 employees. Of course, even with a W2 employee you can be clear up front if it's part time, no benefits - that way you don't waste time interviewing someone with other expectations.

It's good to hear that Navyguy has a good experience with his service, though. Can't really beat that price!
 

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Discussion Starter #15
@Walnuts240 I am not sure the cost of your answering service, but mine is about $100 a month. They filter 90% of the calls for me and we have a "code" that a client will use if they are to be put through to me immediately. If there is somebody that I want to talk to directly, that is the only time I will give out my cell phone number. If I get a number on my phone that I don't recognize, it just get ignored.

I would have to spend a lot more on the answering service to justify a person in the office just for that, but on the opposite side, I pay that same amount if the phone never rings either (which is pretty unlikely).

Cheers
John
@Navyguy. I was spending on average about $400 a month on the answering service.
 

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I use a VOIP service lets me port numbers anywhere.... We get tons of junk calls every day so we typically let it got voice mail. The nice thing is the with the voice mails, i can have them emailed to multiple people.

Any customer of any importance will have my cell phone number or a tech's number..
 

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Any customer of any importance will have my cell phone number or a tech's number..
Same here but I think this is mostly important for companies that have new prospective customers calling their main published number.
 

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@Navyguy. I was spending on average about $400 a month on the answering service.
Then add your personal time to deal with the list of calls daily / weekly / monthly, give that a dollar value and that is your total cost to deal with your phone list. Then it is a simple issue of comparing the cost of a office person / estimator / dispatcher or do you add to your costs of a better quality process at the service itself.

Remember every hour you are not working earning money, you are spending money. Even sitting with your feet up is earning money because you will be refreshed and relaxed to start your next project. If you are constantly running around harried that will affect your ability to make money.

Cheers
John
 

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This is not to knock an answering service, which is really cost-effective if that is truly all you need. But there are other things that your own office employee can do, that you can't ask an answering service to do: look up parts, schematics, etc. (Now for this I am obviously talking a really small business with only a few techs.) Emailing schematics or pdfs of power boards of machines or appliances with electrical issues is a snap with smart phones. I've spent time researching parts for a vacuum press for a print and framing shop, researching and eventually ordering a pedal switch for a saw for that same shop (needed to get answers from Brazilian manufacturer on that one), combing online forums to do research on doors for obsolete panel boxes, researching original working vintage breakers (or newer compatible versions) for vintage panels, etc. It's helpful that often after only a quick conversation I can get a necessary part ordered before a guy even leaves the job site, or worst case scenario, before he gets back to the office. Saves him from having to do that leg work on his own, and he can move on to the next job instead of doing research. (For clients who can afford to fix but not replace, of course - we know it's usually much easier and more lucrative to replace!)

Plus your office person can also, hopefully, use Quickbooks or other similar program for bookkeeping, do your HR stuff as well, and make a mean cup of coffee.
 

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As one person stated, and I learned over 40 years ago, people want to talk to some. And preferably NOW. I found that by answering the phone and dealing with the person I get much more work. Many if not most of the people go to the next contractor to call and you can lose your business which you have paid ads out trying to find instantly. I need the business and carry... and answer all calls when I get them. I deal with the customer right then if I can. Iff the job is sold at that point I had my phone to a helper to take all needed information, address, etc that way I can continue working. If you don't need the work then let it go to an answering machine/service/mailbox. You will still get some of them as a customer but fall way short of what you would have if you answer the phone yourself.
 
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