Seemingly little things do count. Returning phone calls from your clients, for instance, can bring a huge return

A recent survey that caught my eye recently noted the percentage of phone messages that go unreturned in business. I really don’t know about the absolute validity of some survey data and, despite my personal frustration with unreturned phone calls, the 59 percent quoted in this particular survey still seemed a little high – but who am I to argue?

That number actually staggered me. More than half of the messages left by your clients go unreturned by your staff.

I have spoken to several business people over the past few weeks and tested them on this number. Many of the people I spoke to defended this behaviour.

I found that incredible – until I heard the defences. The first defence was that those damned annoying clients who want to give us their money ring back before we get a chance to return their phone call.

The second defence was that if the initial call was really that important, the client will ring back.

The third defence was that you know what a person is calling about and you aren’t ready to talk about that topic yet as you need to find out more information.

The last common defence I heard was that the client shouldn’t be calling us anyway as we have spent lots of money on our website and Facebook site and all sorts of other non-verbal communication means so we need to re-educate our clients on how we want to communicate with them.

The logic employed in these pathetic defences was all about taking care of the big stuff and don’t sweat the small stuff. I tend to argue the complete opposite.

Read the below excerpt I recently received from a friend of mine who wanted my advice in relation to changing IT providers.

“Our current issues have not cost us any time or money as our system is working well but it concerns me that if they can’t do the simple things like return a phone call then how reliable are they going to be if we do encounter a major issue?”

Do you see the delicious irony here? – by focusing on just the big stuff (and this company argued that if there was a major issue they would return the phone call immediately) and ignoring the little annoying phone calls, the IT provider in this example has eroded their clients’ confidence in them.

With unified communications and the ability for messages from various sources (including services such as Memo for your mobile) to all arrive in your inbox, there really is no excuse for not returning calls in a timely fashion. The only excuse for not returning calls is death – and even then some clients will not be happy with that defence.

There are a few simple rules you can roll out to your staff. First, return all messages (phone calls, emails, texts, etc.) promptly. What is promptly? Put a definition on it. My definition is within five minutes of being aware of the message

and being able to return the call. It doesn’t mean you have to have the solution. It is OK to call back to arrange another time to call when you have the time to deal with the call properly.

Ignoring the call until you are ready to deal with it does not win you any points in the customer service stakes. It is even OK to have a colleague return the call to arrange a time.

I find it amusing that there are seemingly endless courses on how to attract new clients to your business but far less on how to keep them. I could run a course that would improve the bottom line for most businesses. The course would last five minutes. It would simply have a flashing PowerPoint presentation with five words. “Return All Phone Calls Promptly”. It would flash constantly for five minutes to burn it into the brain of all employees and the bottom line would improve for 95 percent of businesses.

When clients are asked to describe high levels of customer service, the two most common responses revolve around responsiveness and attention to detail. Customer satisfaction surveys consistently reveal that little things make a big difference.

Conversely, the top two customer complaints (in relation to customer service) are, not surprisingly, unreturned phone calls and a failure to do what someone said they would do (breaking promises). Do you monitor your staff on their rate of returning calls? If so, tell me your percentage of unreturned phone calls at

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