Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is Your Phone Tree Outdated?

In the last post, we examined the value of using your voice mail's "temporary greeting" function to give callers accurate information as to when you are available. Far too many people record a greeting and then forget about it. A second common area of neglect is the telephone tree. Since the people who work  in a business day-to-day are not the ones who call in and hear what customers hear, they may miss information which is no longer accurate.

time managementChange of Hours
Has your business changed its hours of operation? In particular, does your business change its hours during a particular season of the year?

The most common situation I run across, due to my connection with the education world, is school systems which are closed on Friday during the summers. They work extended hours Monday through Thursday and are closed Friday, realizing a cost savings in air conditioning and employee gasoline consumption, just to name a couple of advantages.

The problem becomes that the telephone tree, which was accurate from September through May, is now inaccurate from June through mid-August. Anyone who calls the school or school district on Friday hears a greeting which indicates today is business as usual, yet the person cannot get through to anyone. No matter what extension one selects, voice mail is the result. Leave a message early Friday morning, with the expectation of having the call returned later in the day, and you will be sadly disappointed.

Does your business change its hours during a particular season? If so, has your organization assigned one particular person to be responsible for updating that greeting? Do you even know how to update the greeting on that telephone tree? Typically, the focus is on setting up the tree when a new phone system is installed. Once the initial setup is complete, maintenance of it is forgotten.

When people call your business, do they hear a list of extensions which include people who haven't worked there for four years? Change of Personnel
When people call your business, do they hear a list of extensions which include people who haven't worked there for four years? Has your company reconfigured departments, yet no change has been made to the telephone tree? From your end, you are frustrated with people who keep calling your department when they clearly need to be talking to someone else. From their end, they did exactly what the outdated telephone tree prompted them to do.

When someone is hired or someone leaves the organization, who is responsible for updating that extension in the message customers will hear? What is the procedure for keeping that person updated on personnel changes?

Call Your Own Business
One of the best tips I received as a new school administrator was, "Call your own school." You then see how long the phone rings before someone answers and the manner in which the call is answered. In addition, you get a chance to work through your own telephone tree and see how accurate it is.

"Call your own school." Checklists are the Answer
We are busy people. We are often too busy to put in place the systems which will maintain our work. Simple checklists serve as the vehicle for identifying the tasks which must be done, by whom, and when, in order to keep the the system maintained.

What are the steps to be taken when someone is hired? For those who handle hiring, does the list of steps include informing the person who updates the voice mail extensions? What are the "to-dos" when someone leaves the organization? In addition to being sure you get their keys, does that list include notifying the person who will remove this person's extension from the telephone tree?

Do the hours of business change seasonally? If so, does a particular person have as a repeating task to update the greeting on the telephone tree? And, since changing that greeting involves a number of steps, is the list of steps readily available when it's time to update the tree?

The first question for some businesses will be, "Where is the manual explaining how to do all of this stuff, anyway?" My question is, "Who will be the one responsible for finding it or making the phone call to secure a new one from the company which installed your telephone system?"

Our technology needs to work for us. But for the technology to work, we must be serious about maintaining it.
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