I know very quickly what kind of company I am dealing with simply by talking to the first person that answers the phone. This makes a huge impact on who I do business with.
Many companies have automated phone systems, where you listen to the message and then enter a number for the right department. You wait to actually talk to someone from the company. When you finally connect, you know the company trained the employee on a standardized system, telling them what to say and do. They have little or no flexibility and ultimately no real customer relationship.
Small companies may have a voice message, asking you to leave a message. When this happens, you know you might be inconvenienced when they call back. Some people won’t mess with it and move on, others will put up with it to get what they want. Ultimately, you know you’re likely to have several phone calls back and forth to fulfill your needs.
I prefer the companies that have people who readily answer the phone and will help you get what you want and need. I want the first person to handle it. The employee owns the customers needs and delivers in a timely fashion.
I’ve done several start-ups using the last method. The team that answers the phone are more important than their CEO of the company. They are the ones that will set the experience and builds relationships with customers. Empower them and watch your business grow.
The only negative to that type of culture is setting that expectation both for your employees and customers. If you change your strategy, you will lose customers and upset employees that are otherwise very valuable. Before changing, ask yourself if it is worth the risk. I know how huge of a mistake this is. I made it.
Ultimately, you have to decide what you want your business to stand for. are you customer centric, really customer centric, or are you going for pricing and bulk? Customer centric companies are not price sensitive. They are, however, value sensitive.