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SummitFarmer
01-30-2001, 01:07 PM
Do you guys have an office manager or receptionist that is available to take phone calls or do you just use voice mail?? I know many so called "Consumer Advocates" that tell people to be cautious of service providers that only have voice mail, I was wondering what you folks thought.

tpirobert
01-30-2001, 01:40 PM
Unless I am in my office, there is no one to answer the phone. I have thought about making my cell phone my official business line. This has voice mail and beeps me when there are messages. However, for this spring I am going to try call forwarding on the business line to my cell phone. I know other contractors in my area that have someone to answer the phone and it seems to make a positive difference for them. I know potential customers start calling in the spring and if I don't answer the phone...it's on to the next guy. I would'nt hire someone to answer the phone unless they were doing all the other office duties i.e. "office manager" and I was too busy to do it myself.

JimLewis
01-30-2001, 02:06 PM
Ah! Great thread. We discussed this at length this time last year. To answer the phones live or not:

It all depends on how much business you want and how fast you want to grow. It also depends on your form of advertising a little. But you need to understand that if someone isn't answering the phone live, some people will just hang up, not leave a message, and go elsewhere. If you are okay with that, cool. Just as long as you are aware that happens.

I try to always have someone answering the phones live. For several reasons. For one, I have ambitious growth plants. I hate to miss an opportunity. I want to get every call. Next, one for of advertising we use is the yellow pages. Most people looking through the YP will just go on to the next ad if they don't get a live person. I know I sure do. And even with caller ID, half of the people out there have their numbers blocked so if I miss the call and they don't leave a message, that customer is gone.

Fianlly, some people just don't like leaving messages. Heck, I don't leave messages 50% of the time when I am calling someone. So regardless of whether they heard of me from a flyer or whatever, I will still miss some potential business if I don't answer the phone. That bothers me. Like I said, some guys don't mind it.

For the last two years I had an answering service. We paid like $30 a month for it. When I was gone, I would forward my phone to this service and they would answer with my company name. They'd tell the customer that I had stepped out and take down the pertinent information (name, address, scope of work). Then I'd get an alpha page with all this information immediately. I'd always try to stop what I was doing and call people back. It worked very well.

Late last year we changed to me answering the phones almost all the time now. I got a vibrating cell phone. So now when I am out of the office I have the phone forwarded to my cell phone. I can feel it even if I am using a blower. The only time I don't answer it is when I am with a potential client giving a bid. And my voice mail says something like, "Hi, this is Jim Lewis with Lewis Landscape. You've reached my cell phone and I always have it with me. I'll always answer it unless I am speaking with a customer. So if you are hearing this message it means I am aware of your call and if you'll leave a message I'll return your call in just a few minutes."

Seems to work very well. I catch 95% of the calls live. And most of the ones I miss leave me a message.

This spring when my wife quits her job, we will likely have her answer phones some of the time.

David Hickerson
01-30-2001, 02:15 PM
Jim,

I am right with you on this. My wife gets mad because I answer the phone even on nights out. I just tell her it is me getting a bonus or a raise.

Houston

JimLewis
01-30-2001, 04:00 PM
David, mine too! I will answer the phone at dinner out somewhere and she gets a little irritated too. I just tell her the reason I can afford to take her out so often is because of these phone calls. She's learned now to deal with it. But I still get that look. :-)

nlminc
01-30-2001, 05:04 PM
I have a pamplet from MAP (mobile communications Inc.) they seem to have a great setup for an answering service. I don't know what the rates are, but the Web address is:www.mapmobile.com. I have used other answering services before and had mixed results, some will put callers on hold if the staff can not handle the calls coming in. MAP promises not to do that.

Chris

Twotoros
01-30-2001, 05:47 PM
The year I got caller ID on my line I realized that a great amount of callers do not leave a message . They do not want to talk to a machine (machinatosis). The next year I got an answering service to take calls and page me. That worked great but the company split in two and the live operator part was now 200 miles away and I didn't want to deal with them anymore. At the time with pager this cost about 40. a month but nobody hangs up on a live person. Now I just forward to my cell .

JimLewis
01-30-2001, 05:58 PM
I have had some similar experiences as Chris. Sometimes the answering service we were using was placing people on hold for long periods of time. That sucks because most people won't wait. It didn't happen very often but I am sure we missed a few jobs because of it. That's the down side to answering services. But it's still a ton better than not answering the phone live at all.

I still think the best idea is to have someone answer live for you - whether it's someone you hire or yourself on a cell phone. This is about the best option.

Bryan McMullen
01-30-2001, 06:24 PM
Chris,
I talked to maps and it depends on how many calls you get each month.You can start out with 150 I believe.Anything over 150 you pay .55 per call and it is 96 amonth for the service.

JimLewis
01-30-2001, 07:03 PM
Try PageNet. They are one of the biggest paging companies in the US. I really liked their service. I never had a problem with it. And I paid I under $50 a month for the pager and answering service (dispatch service, they called it). The pager also doubles as a regular numeric pager.

http://www.pagenet.com

lawn and stump
01-30-2001, 08:39 PM
I have been call fowarding my business line to my cell phone for 5 mos now it works great my first incoming min is free w/verizon. I called the phone co to set up the fowarding it rings in my shop 3 times so called id records the call then if I don't get the call there it rings my cell phone if I don't answer it goes to voice mail.
last time I was plowing it was a Sunday I had 30 incoming calls and picked up an extra $120 for the 3-4 new clients I did that day.

jaclawn
01-30-2001, 09:09 PM
I have an awnsering machine here at the office. I had thought of having the calls forewarded to a cellular, but don't see the advantage. 95% of my calls are from regular customers, not from new people, just out shopping. My regulars know that I have office hours from 5:00 a.m. till 7:00 a.m. and from 6:00 p.m. till 8:00 p.m. They know that if they call during those times, there is a very good chance they their call will be awnsered.

They know that I am out in the field all day, and not there to take calls. I remember one day I stopped by for something, and decided to answer the phone. The customer was scocked that I answered, he was expecting to leave a message for me.

One of the reasons that I don't like to answer during the day is that it can take up too much of my time during the day. This is especially true as seasons change, and the daylight hours are not very long.

People have also got the impression that if I anwser the phone, that I am sitting at home, with nothing to do, and can drop whatever I am doing, and take care of whatever it is that they need. As you all know this is not the case.

I just prefer to handle my calls early in the morning, or after the day is finished.

Even many of my referrals know my office hours before they are a customer.

JML
01-30-2001, 09:28 PM
i just got a new business plan from Nextel, its $99.00 a month for unlimited minutes, so i will be hooking up call forwarding on my office line. when you get call forwarding whose number shows up in the caller id, yours or the customers? whats the point of advertising if no one is around to take the call..

JimLewis
01-30-2001, 09:48 PM
JML, yah, we got the same deal with Qwest. Unlimited minutes for $79. So that's one reason why I use cellular so much.

As to Jaclawn's comments; I mentioned above that some people are happy where they are at and don't have an ambitious growth plan. So like I said; for those people it may not be a big deal to answer your phone live. If you are not out actively marketing for new business and are just relying mostly on your existing clients, an answering machine will suffice.

I will have to respectfully disagree, however, that answering your phone makes you sound like you are sitting at home "doing nothing." I think it makes your company look professional and like you make your customers a priority. It make you look like you have a good sized operation going. This is especially true for new customers. If you are advertising in the yellow pages, flyers, etc. the last thing you want to sound like is that you are a one man show. At least that's not my goal anyway.

Again, it all depends on your outlook and company goals. But if you want to look like a professional company and / or just want to be sure you don't miss any new business, you should be answering your phone. If you aren't actively trying to build a big business or it doesn't matter to you that you miss a few potential customers then don't answer it. It's as simple as that.

Groundcover Solutions
01-30-2001, 10:28 PM
We use cell phones from NEXTEL (The best cell phone company in the world) One guy answers all of the lawn & landscape calls on his cell phone and i take care of all the firtilizing calls. The reason they are differint is because i own the the firtilizing part and the other guy owns the lawn part it works grate for us we answer only the calls that we want to. Wich is almost all of them unless we are in the middel of geting another job or something along that line. NEXTEL is the way to go a little expensive but grate servcie, could not live with out direct-conect!!!!

bobbygedd
01-31-2001, 01:34 AM
jimlewis, thanks for the thing about the answering service, excelent idea, i get alot of hangups on my machine, never thought about using a service, after reading yur reply, i called a service, it will cost me $17 per week, which is fine by me. you guys r a great help, ive learned a ton in a short time at this site. BOB

Michael Fronczak
01-31-2001, 08:26 AM
I have a question for you guys, what percentage of your business is residential, what commercial? We do some residential, I haven't solicteed it in probably 4 years now, I've pulled yellow pages ads, ect. All my growth, 50%+ per year last two, this year will be much more, now is in straight commercial work, ie cold calls & bid lists. All commercial clients have cell number as they are respectfull of it, I have voicemail on it, it stays in truck, I return calls between jobs.

TJLC
01-31-2001, 09:59 AM
When someone calls the house and gets the machine it will give my cell #. I figure if it's important they will call me on my cell.

TGCummings
01-31-2001, 10:20 AM
I have only the answering machine at home and the voice mail on my cell. I put down my home office phone as the 'evening' number and cell phone as the 'day' number. It's just me so there's no way I can afford to have someone answering phones 24/7, and my wife currently works in her own career.

However, I do like the idea of an answering service and may go that way later in the year...

-TGC

Green Finger
01-31-2001, 11:43 AM
I'm all for the answering the phone to give the personal and professional touch.

I have a question. How many phone calls to you guys get during the peak season. (Provided you marketed heavy)

Jim does it bother you when you get a lot of calls. Interupting your work flow. (I directed that towards you because I know you do heavy marketing.)

How do you handle it.

I don't want to miss any calls. I like the forward to the cell phone idea. or answering service.

JimLewis
01-31-2001, 12:55 PM
In the heat of the season I get an average of 5-10 calls a day from customers. (Not to mention the other 10 or so times my wife and friends call...) On a really busy day I will take maybe 15. But that's fairly rare. Some times I am probably guilty of overmarketing our business.A good 1/4 or so of the calls I can weed out because they either aren't in our service area or are requesting something we don't do.

How do I keep up? I just make that my job. Rather than being out in the yards doing the work, my job in the spring and summer is to answer calls, give bids, and check up on the jobs we have in progress. My crews handle pretty much everything else. They have their own expense accounts, they know where to buy products and materials, etc.

One thing that makes it easier is that I am always prepared to give an estimate on the spot. I always try to give my estimates within 24 hours of the call. And I try to get a description of what the customer wants and stop by when they are at work. Then I leave my bid on their front door (in an envelope so the other landscapers don't see what I bid). That way I don't have to make arrangements to meet too many people live. I can just stop by when it's convenient. Most people have a pretty clear idea of what they want anyway and can describe it over the phone.

Also, every morning I make myself a route of the places I need to go give bids. I design the route to be the most efficient possible. And then if I get a call during the day and am going to be in that area I'll squeeze that one in that day too. I sometimes end up giving bids up until 8:00 or even 8:30 at night.

For lawn care, we have two basic packages. So I have a folder where I keep these forms that explain the services in detail and at the bottom they just have a blank space for price. It makes it easy because I can just show up at a house, take a quick look around, enter in some prices, leave the envelope, and go. I am also prepared to meet a customer live if they happen to be home. I have a portfolio of our work, pictures of plants and trees, drafting materials (in case I need to draw up a quick sketch), etc.

As for the calls getting in the way of my work. They don't really. I mean, it IS my work. So I just expect it. It does get a little annoying some times. Especially when we are booked for 2 weeks in advance and I am making more money than I need. At those times the calls seem a little less important to me and I the phone rings and I shout, "Dang people!!! Quit bothering me." But then I always go and answer it in a nice voice.

I just deal with it. I actually kind of love it. It's exciting. I wish the phone were always ringing off the hook like that. Because I get kinda bored this time of year.

incedentally, this is why you never see me around this message board except in the winter :-)

[Edited by jimlewis on 01-31-2001 at 11:59 AM]

Green Finger
01-31-2001, 01:03 PM
Thanks Jim,

Good info. You really have to get a feel for it and go from there.