Returning your Phone Calls – by Michael Stone

During a recent seminar in Sacramento, California, I asked, “How many return every phone call the same day or by 9 am the next morning?” Of 110 people in the room, 4 raised their hand. Less than 4%.

I didn’t ask the question to embarrass or make anyone feel guilty. We were discussing the rate of business failures in construction. The percent of companies who fail in construction is somewhere between 90% and 96%. Every time I ask that question, the percent of companies who return every phone call is 3% to 6%. Hmmmm, I wonder if there could be a relationship?

Perhaps returning phone calls isn’t important to you. That is fine as long as it doesn’t cost you money. But that, my friend, is seldom the case.
Let me give you an example.
In 2002, a representative for a homeowner called me looking for a contractor in his area to do about $350,000 worth of remodeling and repairs on a home. I tried for two weeks to find a contractor for the referral. I would call and leave a very clear message of who I was and what I wanted. I must have called at least 20 different companies. Most of the contractors I called had even attended our Markup and Profit seminar. They had heard me preach about the importance of returning phone calls.
Want to guess how many returned calls I got? One, from the wife of a remodeling company owner. I told her the whole story; she promised she would have her husband call back. To this day I never heard another word.
After two weeks, I called the nice fellow and told him I couldn’t help. I was embarrassed for my industry. This is a clear example of contractors with bad habits and priorities in the wrong place. And please trust me, this is not an isolated incident.
Not returning phone calls is nothing more than a bad habit. Over and over I hear contractors tell me, “I don’t have the time to return my calls, I’m too busy.” Baloney. They have the same amount of time as anyone else. People who claim they are “too busy” are simply disorganized and irresponsible and there is no nice way to say it. If you wish to look like a typical flaky contractor, tell others you are “too busy” to return your calls.
Almost always, a customer’s first contact with you will be by phone. It is appropriate to treat your customers with courtesy, answer their questions and meet their needs when they call.
Companies spend time and money training sales people to do sales and estimating, managers to manage and field people to build projects for their customers. The ability to answer the phone correctly, every time, is every bit as important as knowing how to assemble a new home, do remodeling, or wire or plumb a home.
Make responding to incoming calls top priority. Answering the phone is everyone’s responsibility. It should be answered before the fourth ring. The phone should be answered first with a motivational statement: “Good Morning”. Let the folks know whom they have reached: “This is ABC Construction Company.” Then tell them who you are: “This is John/Mary speaking.” Finally, you let them know you are ready to serve them: “How may we help you?” This is Zig Ziglar’s approach to answering the phones.
If you have to use an answering machine, that is fine – it is far better than having no answer at all. But when you ask callers to leave their number, use it! Return that call as soon as possible, and that means the same day or by early the next day. Don’t make anyone wait.
In many cases, the person responsible for returning the call has the annoying habit of not doing what they say they will do. I can guarantee you if a person won’t return their phone messages; they won’t do other things either. Customers are smart enough to know this and they simply will not do business with companies that don’t return their calls.

If you are guilty of not returning phone calls, make a vow to change immediately. If you have an employee with this habit, give them one warning and then a swift transfer to the competition.

Let me finish this article with a quick story of a phone call I got recently from a friend who owns an HVAC company. He went on four sales calls that day for new air conditioning equipment installs. He contracted with two of the four families and the other two were going to get back to him. The average sale price on the two jobs was about $8,000 with a markup of 2.8. All four families told him they had been trying for several days to get other HVAC contractors to talk to them, but no one would return their calls. He returned their calls, and he got the jobs.

If you are guilty of not returning phone calls, make a vow to change immediately. If you have an employee with this habit, give them one warning and then a swift transfer to the competition.
Let me finish this article with a quick story of a phone call I got recently from a friend who owns an HVAC company. He went on four sales calls that day for new air conditioning equipment installs. He contracted with two of the four families and the other two were going to get back to him. The average sale price on the two jobs was about $8,000 with a markup of 2.8. All four families told him they had been trying for several days to get other HVAC contractors to talk to them, but no one would return their calls. He returned their calls, and he got the jobs.


This article was written by Michael Stone
Construction Programs & Results
1001 49th Street
Washougal, WA 98671
1-360-335-1100

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