For construction companies, the telephone still represents a key opportunity for building and maintaining a customer base, according to a recent study.

The survey of 2,234 American businesses found that 50% of U.S. consumers would prefer to have their questions answered over the phone than going online to look for the information, according to London-based PHMG, a provider of on-hold marketing services to construction companies around the world.

Although Web-based interaction is king, the study’s results provide a clear message that building firms should not neglect traditional methods of communication like the telephone, says PHMG CEO Mark Williamson. Here, he talks to BUILDER about the importance of telephone etiquette.

Are phone calls really still important?
First impressions count and callers can develop a lasting perception of a business based on how well they are treated at the first point of contact. In fact, our research found that 59% of consumers will never do business with an organization again if their first phone call is not handled to their satisfaction.

Given the telephone is still a crucial tool in converting leads to sales, a lasting negative impression can have a detrimental effect on profitability, especially when only 21% of American consumers are satisfied with the way construction businesses handle their phone calls.

What should companies do to ensure their phone calls are handled professionally?
Large amounts of builders’ budgets are often devoted to ensuring visual branding is up to scratch in order to provide a positive user experience, but call handling practice must meet the same standards.

To put it simply, this means ensuring staff are trained on how to deal with calls in a professional and polite manner to ensure leads aren’t wiped out at the first hurdle. Train employees to interact politely and effectively over the phone.

Should companies try to limit the amount of time their customers are on hold?
Time spent on hold is an annoyance for customers the world over. No one wants to be in an automated queue with only repetitive beeps for company. However, it is often impossible for construction companies – big or small – to answer calls immediately and putting a customer on hold is the only option. For example, the caller may need more information on a service which isn’t readily available or may need to be transferred to another team member who is more equipped to answer the query.

Mark Williamson
Mark Williamson

How can builders keep callers engaged while they are on hold?
The situation can be a positive experience to offer first-class customer service while instilling a good brand image and values in the caller’s mind.

On-hold marketing – customized voice and music messages played over the telephone – can be used to keep callers engaged and entertained and reduce hang-ups by 79%. The brand-congruent messages take the place of dead air, which was previously filled with poor music, beeps or even silence, and transforms it into a golden opportunity to communicate key information to a captive audience.

How does on-hold marketing work?
It works in a similar manner to visual branding and can complement existing values already in place. However, unlike its visual counterpart, on-hold marketing is unobtrusive and actually increases satisfaction levels by reducing the perceived hold time.

For builders, the messages provide a chance to up-sell and cross-sell the company’s services. For example, a customer might call the business to enquire about the cost of a project, only to be told the company offers building inspections and surveys which the caller was going to find elsewhere.

Also, with construction jobs, customers want to know that their project is in safe hands and is of the highest standard. Messages can be used to promote the organization’s industry accreditations or any awards it may have won in order to provide further reassurance.

The benefits are clear: Phone etiquette can help reflect brand image and values and also help you get ahead of competitors by establishing a customer service best practice.