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How Does Your Call System Stack Up?

An early mentor of mine said the most important person in any organization is the receptionist. Just as the parking garage is the first impression of a driving destination, the first impression for someone calling a business is the person (or robot) answering the phone. And we all know how infuriating that can be.

I love the instant call-back systems at and, among others. In the customer service sections of their websites, just type in your phone number and within about 10 seconds, a customer service rep is ringing you back.

Calling a doctor’s office recently to schedule an appointment, I became mired in a hopeless loop in a system that simply was flawed. There was no way to the right place due to a glitch that kept landing at the main menu. (Speaking of doctor’s offices, does everyone really need to take lunch and shut phones down from 12 to 1 p.m., just when most working people have the chance to squeeze in a call to make an appointment?)

Try calling your own business. Does the phone system work? How’s the hold music? Does a real person respond? If not, why? Does everyone take lunch at the same time, abandoning phone customers to voicemail?

If your after-hours voicemail message says your office opens at 9:00 a.m., guess what a customer who hears it at 9:05 thinks? I love the approach at Nordstrom: Their doors always open about 10 minutes before their posted store hours begin. Things are quite different at competitive retail outlets where early-bird shoppers often wait outside locked doors past opening time.

I recently read about a real estate company that increased business dramatically just by having the receptionist add a positive comment about the agent with whom a caller would be connected. As in, “I’m going to connect you with John Doe. John is this region’s most experienced commercial real estate agent. I know he’ll have answers for you.”

Frustration with phone call holding is such a prevalent problem, new services are cropping up to address it. Free apps like FastCustomer and LucyPhone will wait on hold for you and ring back when a rep gets on the line. If you try it, let us know.

About Helen Sullivan

Helen Sullivan is IPI’s communications counsel.


  1. Liliana Rambo says:

    Good reminder to check our own agency’s phone practices.

  2. Thank you to John Hammerschlag for emailing me a link to a blog on this same topic posted today by marketing guru Seth Godin: “Your call is very important to us: Rules for treating inbound customer calls with respect.”
    Here’s the link:

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