Why don’t we answer the phone?

Answer the phone pleaseOver the last 10 years we’ve seen some crazy technological shifts haven’t we? Mobile phones can do it all, Internet Listing Services drive more leads than ever before, and our own websites (and the technology behind it) have become far more advanced than we could have ever dreamed. Fundamentally all of these cool new things are simply new ways to get the phone to ring, right? That’s your job as marketers. So why then are you spending all that time trying to get the phone to ring if you’re not answering them?

Stick the leasing phone in the janitor’s closet.

So wait…let me get this straight; we monitor our cost per leases/leads, watch our spend, and analyze our website analyticals but the phones often ring their 4 rings before “I’m sorry, we’re unable to come to the phone” begins? We can roll out an incredible social media strategy with a website that accentuates our branding, maintain a direct relationship with an ILS, post Craigslist ads diligently, and drive leads through street corner belly dancers but yet as an industry our average community misses between 30-50% of their calls! How have we allowed this to happen?

Answering the phone in a busy office IS possible.

I want to try to make a case for why you should answer the phone every time and to show you that it’s possible. First I’ll start by giving you a tiny bit of my history; trust me..it’s relevant to the conversation. WAAYYY back in the stone age (1996-1999) before Facebook, I worked for an insurance replacement rental car company (just like Enterprise). We didn’t have answering machines. It wasn’t because they hadn’t been invented yet but because they didn’t want us using them. Our main job throughout our busy day was to answer the phone…within 4 rings…every time. No excuses. If we were doing a contract with a prospective renter… “Hold on a second sir while I get the phone”… if I was showing someone the key features of a vehicle… “Hold on a second ma’am while I get the phone” My point of course is that answering the phone every time was the company culture and you did what you had to do to make that happen. There were times I had all 4 lines going at the same time. No joke.

Excuses are like…oh never mind.

When I first came to the Multifamily Industry I was taken aback at all the excuses I kept hearing about why the phone couldn’t be answered right away. Tsk tsk.. shame on all of you. When the phone rings that’s a future resident or that’s a resident who needs your attention. You have sales opportunities all day and yet you’re letting that opportunity go to waste. To take this argument further not answering the phone is WORSE by far than not responding to a Tweet, not answering an email, not responding to a Facebook comment, or not replying to a fax. (okay maybe not the last one) Sending off an email or Tweet takes seconds but a phone call can go on for much longer. There’s a stronger commitment there. By not answering you are IGNORING your customers. That’s no good.

What can we do?

Here are some tips I’ve got for changing the company culture around. May the force be with you:
Hurry up and answer the phone!

Start by creating urgency in your leasing people.

I’m not saying they don’t want to rent apartments. Or..actually…maybe I really am. If you aren’t answering the phone then your focus isn’t where it should be. As I said already you’re missing vital sales opportunities. Instilling that kind of belief in what the phones represent is paramount to getting any other tips I throw at you to work. They must believe. Sure all that phone answering makes for a long day…I’ve had them. There were times after the final bell would ring at 5pm where we’d kick back and close our eyes for a few minutes…dreaming of a day without that annoying BRRRRINGGGG. You did it because you believed in the power of those phones and the hope that every call brought.

Forward your phones.

Of course I recognize that there are times when you must give an apartment tour; that’s part of the process. Tough to answer the phone when you’re in the model. My suggestion is have the agent forward the office phone to either their cell phone OR another office. They can take a message and you can call back WITHIN 15 minutes TOPS. That leads into my next point…

Make quick call backs.

There are times when you’ll get overwhelmed. You might be walking a new resident through their paperwork and you have 2 phone lines going. Stop. Prioritize. Take messages. Finish with your prospective resident and then call them back. ASAP! Don’t wait until later in the day. Don’t set certain times of day to check your voicemail messages (hopefully those are just from after hours calls right…right?) or do call backs. Sure doing so might be keeping you organized but that prospective resident, who tried calling, is already touring somewhere else. Believe it.

People will wait

Remember, people will wait.

People that you have in the office will wait. They won’t wait for too long but they will wait. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this. Politely explain that you need to answer the phone and that you’ll be right with them. Smile at them frequently while they wait. Make funny gestures towards the phone like “This person’s crazy” or “Wow what a stupid thing to say.” …err..okay don’t do that. Engage with them to make them feel like you’re not ignoring them. People understand you have a job to do and can be gracious for a short period of time.

Hold people accountable.

One of our biggest fears we had, at the company I worked for, was that the boss would call and that was the time we’d let the phone hit 5 rings. Big trouble. I’m not telling you to instill fear but you need to make sure they are living up to your expectations. Call periodically to see if they answer or to see how long it takes them to. By doing this consistently you’ll see a turn around.

No one can rent your apartments better than you. You spend tons of dough on marketing. Yet the very basic task of answering the phone can often times be an afterthought. Stop letting it be.

I want to give a congratulations to all of you marketing people… you got the phone to ring. Now answer it.

Happy renting everyone….

About the author

bsitko
  • I completely agree with your data and the unfortunate truths that come with it.  It has to be a company focus point in order for that to change.  I come from a different background but much the same as you point out.  The phone paved the way to sales.  If we did not answer it they called the competition.  If we did not return phone calls promptly the client would say “I did not want to wait and I gave the business to so and so”.  These are facts and this is business.  We have clients who use our call scoring service in order to ascertain what percentage of phone calls are being answered and this helps with overall training.  The point you emphasize is the necessity that needs to be encouraged in the first place.  Great post Bill

    • I love when you comment Jonathan because you bring a great perspective to things. Before we even get to HOW you answer the phone, companies need to make sure people are answering the phone. It’s that fundamental that is lost. Make the phone ring, train your agents to answer it properly sure but it’s amazing to me that the actual art of grabbing the receiver and placing it on your ear is a lost one. Thanks for stopping by Jonathan. 

  • Hi Bill – Joe from Livefyre here. Just stopping by to welcome you to the team! If you ever have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me directly.

    I enjoyed this post immensely, although, I must admit, I am terrible at answering my personal phone. At Livefyre, however, we follow a similar protocol, albeit slightly more digitally focused (but we’d be just as happy to pick up the phone too!).

    I also enjoyed this post because it made me think of my family. My parents run a small business and despite my best attempts to move them into the social media world they still insist on handling all business in person, over the phone or via hand written letter. They never miss a call, and I’ve come to realize just how important this tiny, little strategy is to their overall success.

    Cheers!

  • Bsitko

    @joebertino Really digging your comment software Joe. Thanks for commenting today…can’t say as if I’ve ever seen Disqus do THAT! Ha!

  • @Bsitko Right on! We’re here to help AND participate. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and your community.

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