Dialing for Dollars
Written Today’s Image, trade publication for tanning salons
Briing … the spotlight is on you. You have an excellent opportunity to make a sale every time the phone rings. And chances are great you’ll blow it.
By Julie Sturgeon
If there’s one thing your employees can do without instruction, it’s talk on the phone.
But do they do it well? That’s the lucrative question too many tanning salon owners across the country flub. After all, the lowly telephone is one of the mightiest sales tools available for a commodity business like tanning services, assures Chris Young, president of The Rainmaker Group, a consulting firm in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“To be frank, I know lots of tanning businesses out there and they all provide the same service. It’s not exemplary, it’s not different,” he says. “The challenge is how do you get your clients to say, ‘Wow, this is a different place!’ so that in the event someone offers a price break, a special package, it’s a painful choice for them?” Hint: the answer involves establishing an emotional attachment -- and that’s where every ordinary telephone jangle can become your best friend.
Well Hello, Dolly!
Believe it or not, many salon owners flunk Telephone Etiquette before uttering a word. Says Kate Zabriskie, owner of Business Training Works in the Washington, D.C. area, picking up the phone on the first ring startles the caller, and begins the conversation with an awkward “Oh! I’m sorry.” Let it ring at least twice.
Just before you lift the receiver, take a deep breath. This simple step calms you enough to sound attentive and interested when you greet your caller ñ not to mention it automatically slows your pace to ensure you’re understood, points out Susan RoAne, a motivational speaker and author on social networking issues at her San Francisco headquarters.
At this point, you can choose to answer the phone in a standard, “XYZ Tanning Salon, this is Nancy” or seize this moment to put your salon’s personality in the limelight. Young advocates the latter, suggesting that his small-business clients come up with something upbeat like “It’s a great day at XYZ Tanning Salon -- how can we brighten yours?”
“The idea is to inject a bit of fun into the greeting so the customer thinks this could be a great place to go,” he says. “Why are people coming to your business? They’re preparing for a wedding, they just booked tickets to Mexico, they want to relax. Life is a celebration and every time we deal with a customer is a supreme opportunity to help them enjoy that celebration.”
Just don’t get too wild with your welcome. Zabriskie didn’t score the client who answered its phone “Yo, Yo Dawg, What’s Up Printing Shop,” in rap rhythm highly on her evaluation sheet. “Yo, Yo Dawg doesn’t instill a whole lot of confidence even thought it was funny,” she notes.
Whichever you choose, don’t forget to incorporate the basics: a greeting, your salon’s name, and your name.
And you still haven’t conquered this simple sentence. You must deliver it warmly to convince the caller you know how to provide a luxury service. The secret: lower vocal tones. According to a survey by Dunhill Temporary Systems, a deep-toned speaking voice projects a sense of confidence, control, trust and credibility. Voices that are high-pitched, nasal, throaty, raspy, squeaky or monotone won’t capture the listener’s vote.
But you don’t need a naturally gifted voice or even a professional coach to achieve acceptable results. The trick is to breathe from the diaphragm, and perfecting that is a solo act. First, to find the diaphragm, lie on your back on a solid surface. Next, put your hands along your rib cage. When you take a deep breath, don’t move your stomach ñ expand the rib cage instead. After you feel comfortable breathing this way in the horizontal position, practice the same technique while sitting, then standing. Rejoice the next time you get the hiccups ó they’re a great way to check your progress. If you are breathing correctly, the action presses down and calms the diaphragm, curing the hiccups in about 60 seconds.
According to Zabriskie's customer service stats, 68 percent of customers who leave a business hit the road because of employees' indifferent attitudes. So your big pay-off lies in the fact that these small tweaks banish that cloud of apathy.
And How May I Help You?
Callers dial your number because they have a need. Sometimes it’s as simple as the salon’s hours. More often, they want pricing information, which puts you in a sticky situation. Let’s face it: You picked up the phone intending to establish an emotional connection, not spit out numbers like a clerk.
"The worst response is 'OK, we have the 30-day special,'" says Young. "The best route is to say, 'I want to make sure I take great care of you, so first of all let me get your name and phone number.' From there, strike up an engaging conversation using personal questions such as
- You’re obviously shopping around -- what are some things you really like about tanning salons?
- What three things don’t you like?
Each opening allows you to explain your salon’s strengths on your side of the conversation. “The reality is that the close ratios of these people calling in to get pricing gets supremely better if you engage them,” Young assures. To keep the right level of enthusiasm and energy in your voice, envision yourself looking at that customer and physically smile (even if it’s fake) throughout the exchange. If you have the option of standing, take it, RoAne encourages ñ it elongates your vocal cords, keeps your shoulders down and puts your head in a neutral position. While listening, shrug your shoulders up to your ears to stretch your neck and stay loose. Actors call it the Alexander technique ñ small-business owners call it money in the bank.
And don’t squelch that tendency to talk with your hands. Gestures lend energy to your voice, and the caller translates that as friendlier.
Speaking of energy, Young even counsels his clients to offer snacks like fruit and granola bars for employees to nibble every 90 minutes as opposed to taking big meal breaks. Little bites along with plenty of hydration prevents that mental drain that too often bleeds through in employees' voices between 1:15 and 3:15 every afternoon. "Energy transfers both up and down. If you call somebody and they answer the phone in a negative way, you feel yourself come down. If they answer in a happy way, you feel your energy rise," he notes.
It should go without saying receptionists must never eat or chew gum while on the phone, they need to apply the same rules of warmth and enthusiasm with vendors as with customers, and always ask ñ and receive ñ permission before putting someone on hold. However, all three consultants have encountered these no-nos during secret audit calls to small businesses.
Could You Hold, Please?
Between a live customer and a phone conversation, the priority always goes to the person who took the time to stand in front of you, experts agree. Yet juggling that balance tactfully is rarely second nature. You rarely go wrong with the "Right now, I’m helping another customer and I need to give you my undivided attention. What is a good number for me to call you back in the next 15 to 20 minutes?” approach.
For an even smoother line, Young suggests telling your caller, "One moment please --someone just walked in and I want to make sure they're taken care of. I’ll be back with you in two minutes." Then invite the visitor to enjoy some refreshments while you wrap up your phone business. In both cases, be sure to exaggerate the amount of time it will take to return to take advantage of the psychology of expectations. "It makes you look like you care when you actually come back faster, and the customer will think you’re great," Young says.
If the pause will take more than three to four minutes, offer to call back your prospective tanner, Zabriskie advises. "The other day, someone put me on hold for what I thought was at least seven minutes. But when I looked at the timer on my cell phone, it was only a minute and 17 seconds," she confesses. "Time just drags when nothing is happening,."
Every conversation, like a good novel, needs a satisfying ending. Unfortunately, some folks out there don’t know when to shut up. They want to tell you about their holiday plans, why they like winters in Florida, how excited they are their goddaughter is getting married. When you get a Chatty Cathy on the line, Zabriskie says to indulge them for about 20 seconds to avoid hurt feelings, then steer the conversation, using that warm, friendly voice, back to business. It goes like this:
Caller: "I want to get a base tan and I’m so excited because we’re going on vacation with my whole family and it’s going to be so much fun. We had a bit of trouble trying to get a rental place large enough for 35 folks, but its all straightened out now. Anyway, I want to come in and get a tan."
Salon: "I definitely want to get you scheduled so that you have a good time on your trip, so let’s come up with a convenient time. Would Monday at 4 work?"
Notice how this tactic resists the urge to feed the conversation. Responding with "Oh, I’ve been to Palm Beach -- what’s your favorite restaurant in the area?" only ties up both the phone and your time unnecessarily.
If the caller requested information, don’t hang up without inviting them for a visit, and perhaps a way you can recognize them when arrive. After all, this is a sales opportunity, so it’s completely appropriate to ask for their business.
Finally, don’t chuck your hard work at the end of the conversation. According to business etiquette expert Ann Marie Sabath in Cincinnati, Ohio, "bye-bye" is for mothers when teaching their toddlers how to wave. She suggests a compact "good-bye" or "bye now" as more upscale.
The Last Hurdle
Well that’s easier said than done. Sure, you’re willing to commit to the elements of good phone etiquette. But exactly how do you motivate young staffers to follow your lead?
Hire them on this skill, says RoAne. She requests job candidates answer the phone as part of their job interview, and then arranges to have friends call in at various times when that new employee is at the desk to test their ongoing presentation. "You can’t expect a 19-year-old to know what to do if you don’t teach them," she says. "But if you teach them and then don’t role model it, they’ll never listen to you."
In fact, even walking the talk won’t cut it, Young chimes in. You must explain the reason behind your phone policy, and then cater to the WIFM factor: what’s in it for me. In the long-term, that means tying performances and raises to phone answering skills. At this moment, it means praising them when you catch them doing it right. Some of Young’s clients keep a wall calendar in the break room where they note individual’s triumphs on it daily. Still others dub their receptionists “Director of First Impressions.”
“There are two big kisses of death when it comes to employee motivation: not telling them often enough that they do a good job and disconnecting them from decision-making,” he notes. In other words, if you merely announce “This is how we greet people” and go on your merry way, the phone salutations will sound like walking death when you’re not around. Ask for input on how to phrase your greeting and they’ll work harder to execute.
“It’s not totally up to you to figure out why each person wants a tan, but it’s your job to make them look and feel good. Phone calls are an opportunity to help the public see they’ve made the right choice,” he adds.
Leave a Message at the Beep
Occasionally a representative from your salon will need to leave a message for a client. There’s an art to talking to a machine, beginning with writing down exactly what you want to say so that you don’t ramble incoherently through the one-sided conversation.
The formula is easy: Always start by giving your name, the salon’s name and phone number every time the voice mail box beep sounds in your ear. This way, says Dick Canada, chairman of Dartmouth Training Group in Indianapolis, listeners don’t need to replay your entire message should they fail to capture this information on the first go-round. Then proceed to use the power of voice mail to your advantage by leaving a specific message — “We’ve had a glitch with your EFT transaction this month and need to arrange an alternative payment” demands more immediate attention than “I need to talk to you about your account.” “Call me at your convenience” or “I have the information you want” are irritating wastes of time for the customer because they don’t take the conversation toward a resolution.
On the other hand, if your news is bad, don’t spell it out on a voice mail system, warns networking expert Susan RoAne. That’s the one time when a vague but firm “It’s important that I speak with you this afternoon” is appropriate.
Next, take a moment for a cross-sell – mention any specials, new lotions, new partnerships in one sentence. Then conclude with something upbeat such as “we enjoy working with you,” and repeat your name and number. To make sure the listener has a chance to keep up, actually write down the numbers on a piece of paper as you speak them, suggests Kate Zabriskie, owner of Business Training Works in Washington D.C.
Total time: 30 seconds maximum.
Did You Pass the Test?
Today’s Image randomly phoned tanning salons across the nation this fall to test their telephone skills. We asked each person who answered the same question: “Do you have any specials at the moment?” Here’s how we graded their presentations:
City/State Day/Time Number of Rings Grade
Mukilteo , WA Saturday, 8:15 a.m. 12 F
This salon had no voice mail system for after-hours calls, so customers are left with the lonely sound of a phone ringing indefinitely in their ears.
Duluth , MN Saturday, 10:15 a.m. 3 C+
Sounded annoyed when she answered the phone, but quickly switched into Barbie doll perky at the question. Immediately recited the specials in detail, including lotion deals. Ended with “Do you need to know anything else? OK, good. Bye!” Didn’t ask for the sale.
Cahokia , IL Saturday, 10:20 a.m. 2 D
Answered in a flat, no-nonsense voice that left us feeling scolded for dialing. Response to question: “For tanning? We just have packages,” followed by complete silence. Spit out an efficient “Bye” to our confused “OK, uh thanks” statement to fill the air space.
Burley, ID Saturday, 9:20 a.m. 4 C
Voice mail system picked up with the announcement that “everyone is either not here or too busy to come to the phone. Leave name and number and we’ll get back to you.” Needs a bit of courtesy polish.
Warsaw , OH Saturday, 11:20 a.m. 14 on first try/5 on second F
This salon never picked up either in person or by voice mail during business hours.
Franklin , MA Saturday, 11:30 a.m. 3 D
Greeting was extremely upbeat although slurred, but response to question was a compact “Nope” followed by the still more clipped “Yep. Bye. Click” sounds after we repeated her response for clarity.
Dacula , GA Saturday, 11:30 a.m. 3 C
Stumbled around trying to explain the salon’s EFT packages, but did volunteer regular monthly prices and asked “What are you looking for?” Didn’t sound as if she gave a flying flip, however, during the conversation.
Cheektonago , NY Saturday, 11:45 a.m. busy signal/11/busy signal/9 F
Never got to the point where anyone (or anything) picked up.
Cherokee, IA Saturday, 10:30 a.m. 1 F
Grade-schooler answered the phone by only saying hello. When we asked if this was “XYZ” Salon, he said yes. After we asked about specials, he wanted to know who was calling (phrased as “who is this?”), and then nothing. No breathing, no sound of a phone being put down – just a vacuum. We hung up after 30 seconds.
Mission Viejo , CA Wednesday, 1:15 3 C-
Reached a robotic voice mail recording that did not identify the name of the salon.
Pittsburg , PA Wednesday, 4:15 2 C -
Flat voice greeting, explained new customer offerings in detail. No attempt to sell us or excite us on the possibilities.
Moberly , MO Wednesday, 3:15 1 D
Slurred greeting. Told us to hold on, then failed to put down the phone while she conferred with someone else in the salon (we heard the entire exchange). Returned to the receiver with a terse “No.”
Suffern , NY Wednesday, 4:15 2 B
Indifferent greeting, but gave general guidance on tanning packages and lotion prices without giving away everything. Ended conversation by asking if we’d like to come into the salon.
Cleveland , TN Wednesday, 3:15 3 A
Cheerful, enunciated greeting. Responded to question with a friendly “Everything is on special! What would you like?” Explained her pricing set up, mentioned the salon’s certifications. Asked if we’d like to try a free session, ended call with “Come and see us!”