Provide the Human Touch

Dec 18, 2019 | Inside Sales

All in-bound phone calls to sales and customer support must be answered by a live person.

I want to see a show of hands from those of you reading this eBook. Raise your hand if you, when you’re a customer, enjoy using an automated phone system when you call a company looking for product information or support. Keep your hand up if you not only like talking to an auto-attendant, but also prefer an automated phone system over talking to a live human being. Anyone?

Is there anyone who really likes having to “Press 1 for English” and then “Please listen carefully as our selection of options has changed” and then maybe  “Press 5 to hear these options again” because the description of which service is associated with which number is not really clear? You like playing hit-or-miss with the menu selections and then being put through to an extension where you get another voicemail message?

In fact, is there a reader who thinks having an auto-attendant provides a superior customer service experience for prospects and customers when they call a business?

I ask this question of C-level executives all the time. Virtually 100% agree that an auto-attendant provides a lousy customer service experience, that hate using it, and yet they use it in their own business.

I always ask a second question of the same people. How many orders have you lost in your efforts to save a few bucks by tossing out your receptionist? How many people hang up before their question is answered? How many calls to your sales department go unanswered?

The answer is always “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms.”

This means that every time the phone rings in the sales and support department of your company it is answered by a person, not a voicemail greeting, not an auto-attendant. It means that you must have a receptionist or admin who is assigned to answer the phones. And a back-up schedule to ensure that the phones are covered throughout the business day.

Sure, large companies have managed to succeed without receptionists. However, I would argue that even they are missing sales opportunities by having all calls go to an auto-attendant or straight to voicemail. In fact, capturing just a fraction of those lost opportunities would more than pay for a receptionist.

Zero-Time Selling means that everything happens in the shortest time possible. Zero-Time Selling means that you win business by being more responsive than your competition. And you can be completely responsive only if you answer the phone and give customers the information they want.

If a prospective customer calls in and an auto-attendant picks up the phone, then the chances of that sales lead talking to a real person anytime soon are fairly remote. In fact, the probability that your salesperson will even return the phone call averages about 50%. That means you have taken a promising lead and reduced its potential value by 50%. Or, looked at another way, you have reduced your probability of getting that prospect’s business by 50%.

A Person Makes a Difference

Let’s consider a customer’s experiences with two potential suppliers. The customer, we’ll call it Petersen, Inc., calls Company A, Outbrook Corporation, looking for more information about Outbrook’s product.

Okay, back to Richardson, Inc. Their person assigned to make a purchase decision is Alan. Alan has spent time researching Outbrook’s products online and has a question for which he can’t find an answer. Alan calls Outbrook. An auto-attendant answers the phone and tells him he has reached the Outbrook Corporation. To reach a live person he has to go through a dial-by-name directory. If he’s lucky, the auto-attendant will mention an extension for the sales department. Of course, the salespeople know that, and as a result they answer their phones about as often as a commercial airline flight arrives on time. Alan finally figures out to enter the first three letters of Sales, S…A…L and gets directed to Sal Belov’s extension. Unfortunately, Sal is in accounts receivable, not in sales, and he transfers Alan back to the switchboard. Finally, Alan gets put through to the sales line and he gets a voice message sincerely assuring him that his call is extremely valuable to Outbrook: “Please leave a detailed message at the tone and someone will return your call as soon as possible.” Alan leaves a voice message, and is reasonably confident that he will never hear back from Outbrook.

Alan then calls Synchro, Inc., Outbrook’s competitor. On the third ring a pleasant voice answers the phone. “Thank you for calling Synchro. How may I direct your call?” So far so good. Alan says that he has a question about the Synchro Model203B and would like to speak with someone in sales. The receptionist says, “Thank you. I am putting you through to Karly Harmann, and she will be able to help you.” Five seconds later the phone rings again. It is quickly answered by Karly Harmann, who thanks Alan for his call and begins the sales process by asking how she can help him. After 15 minutes Karly has answered all of the prospect’s technical and business questions and scheduled a follow-on phone call to do a Web demo of the Synchro Model203B.

Which company is more likely to get the order from Richardson?

Several important things happened here. First, Richardson began to experience how different it would be to do business with Synchro than with Outbrook. The instant availability of a salesperson to answer Alan’s questions created an immediate positive impression of Synchro and their ability and willingness to support him. This is immensely important in the buying cycle. One key step in a prospect’s decision making process is a mental trial of your product and your company. From your first encounter with a prospect, they are assessing how easy it would be to work with your company.

Second, Outbrook turned that first call into a customer experience that created value for Richardson by immediately answering Alan’s questions. This response dramatically increased their odds of winning the order. By answering phone calls in person, and then answering questions in Zero Time, you set yourself apart from your competition. You establish credibility with the customer and create a standard of communication and responsiveness that all of your competitors will have to live up to. Most important, you have shortened the customer’s buying cycle and increased your odds of winning the order.

Red Flag Warning: Salespeople hide behind the phone system. They know that it serves as a useful bulwark against unwanted calls from those annoying people and companies that may actually want to purchase their company’s product! Companies that route all in-bound calls through an auto-attendant and force potential customers to hunt through a dial-by-name directory send a message to their customers that they just aren’t that important to them. And they send a message to their sales team that responsiveness and customer service aren’t important either. If yours is a smaller enterprise, deciding to use an auto-attendant will cost you more money in lost orders and customers than you could ever save.

Corollary #1: At least one salesperson must always be available to take calls from leads, prospects, and customers, even if the customer belongs to another salesperson.

“That really seems inefficient to me.”

How so?

“Why would a salesperson want to field a call from another sales guy’s account? It’ll just irritate the customer, who wants to talk to the same person he’s talked to before.”

To the contrary. When prospects call, they want information, not to chat with your salesperson. They want answers to their questions.

“Still, it seems inefficient. The customer’s regular salesperson will still have to call the customer back.”

Not if the customer gets the answers to his questions. This works to everyone’s advantage—the customer’s, the salespeople’s, and the seller’s. All for one, one for all.

“Now we’re Musketeers?”

But without the hats.

Zero-Time Selling demands that a customer or prospect always talk with a live person when they call. So, what happens during lunch or when someone is on the phone? What happens when a salesperson is sick or on vacation? Your job is to keep your sales process completely responsive. Shared responsibility and accountability is the answer.

Ground Rules for Providing the Human Touch

1. All in-bound sales and customer service calls are answered by a live person.

2. There is always a back-up to answer the central phone lines when the receptionist goes on break or is at lunch.

3. Only in the most dire of emergencies should the phone system be answered by an auto-attendant—except outside of business hours.

4. When a call comes in during the lunch hour, there is always at least one salesperson available to answer it. The salesperson assigned to the lunch shift will answer calls for all salespeople regardless of territory. In addition this person will handle all sales leads that come from any source.

5. When a sales rep is traveling or on vacation, that rep’s accounts are assigned to one person to manage. Commissions from orders taken by the “temporary” sales rep stay with the original salesperson. There is no argument about this. Everyone is just helping out the team. What goes around comes around.

6. What applies to the sales department also applies to the customer-support group. There always needs to be a live person, one person at all times, available to answer customer questions.


1. All in-bound sales and support phone calls must be answered by a live person.

2. Use a weekly schedule to ensure there is phone coverage for sales and support during lunch and breaks.

3. Members of the sales team share responsibility and accountability for the accounts of a salesperson who is ill, on vacation, or traveling on business.

Download the first Chapter of Sell Without Selling Out