Situation 1: Today, Sunday morning, I noticed to my horror that a lug nut for the right rear tire of my Toyota Sienna was missing.  I recently had changed the tire, but apparently didn’t tighten that one nut sufficiently.  Wanting to resolve the situation quickly, I called the Toyota dealer, heard their recorded greeting, and pressed the key for the parts department.  I heard the phone ring…and ring…and ring.   

Situation 2: A few weeks ago, I called a client, the CIO of a law firm. That firm has a main number as well as direct inward dialing (DID), allowing me to bypass the switchboard/receptionist and dial directly the 10-digit phone number of that CIO.  However, when I dialed that number, I heard a message that “your call cannot be completed at this time.”  I got the same message when I called the assistant CIO, as well as two or three other people there. Thinking at this point that maybe I forgot to pay my phone bill, I tested the phone by dialing my mother-in-law, but I reached her successfully.  I also was able to reach another client in the same city as that law firm.  Even more mysteriously, I COULD reach the main number of the law firm.  When I called and asked if the firm was having any problems, they said they were unaware of any.  In addition, their Web site had no mention of any problems.

What do these two situations have in common?  Both involve a failure to give notice to callers/customers/clients, an action which could save time, effort, and frustration for everyone.  No one answered at the parts department of the Toyota dealer because most likely they were closed.  Now, maybe it’s too expensive for them to have an intelligent phone system, one programmed to recognize the time of day and day of the week, and to announce a different message depending on time and day.  What’s wrong, though, with simply prefacing the opening greeting with a message regarding regular business hours? 

With respect to the law firm, it turned out that the problem was related to my telephone carrier, which used voice over IP (VoIP) technology.  At any rate, though I could call the main number, I could not dial individual extensions directly.  In fact, I spoke with one of the information technology people at the firm who told me they were aware of the problem and were working to resolve it.

Eventually it was resolved, but in thinking about the matter later, I was surprised at how the firm handled the situation.  Certainly other callers would have encountered the same situation I did.  Also, clients or potential clients who wanted to reach specific attorneys might have been frustrated in doing so.

Had I been in charge, I might have considered the following actions:

– Put a message on the Web site regarding the problem and advising people to call the main number in the event of problems

– Brief the switchboard receptionists, so they could answer questions intelligently

In both cases, taking just a little extra time and effort to put a notice to people could yield huge benefits.  Such a notice could give many callers the information they were seeking, thus reducing the call volume for employees.

Think about these examples in your own work.  Can you or do you use the Web or telephone announcements to convey information?  What do your customers think of the practice?