The telephone: Great invention, but it is driving me a little bit crazy this week.
When it just sits there and doesn't ring, that's usually not a good sign. Basically, a silent phone is telling you that your friends have given up on you, that your clients are doing business with someone else, and that you haven't really done a very good job of letting potential clients/customers know that you exist. Or that you're worth their time.
A silent phone is not a fun thing to be around.
But then you have weeks like this one, when my phone keeps ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing. And ringing. Every time I hang up, it starts ringing again. Hell, it rings even when I'm on the line with someone - so I have to either put them on hold to ask the new caller to hold, or let the new caller go to voice-mail.
Invariably, as soon as I check my voice-mail, the phone rings again.
Every time I check my email, the phone rings again.
As soon as I pour myself another cup of coffee, the phone rings again.
As soon as I drive uo to a client meeting, the phone rings again.
As soon as I finally get into a groove (actually... you know... doing work,) the phone rings again.
Don't get me wrong: Having your phone ring off the hook all day is a good thing. Hell, it's a great
thing. A year ago, when I left the corporate world to go full time on this little 1-2 year experiment with F360
and BrandBuilder, I wondered if my phone would ever ring.
And for a while, it didn't ring all that much.
That was scary.
As with any business, you have your busy times and your less busy times. The manageably busy middle is a great place to be. It's balanced. You can have a life. You can take the time to do great work. You don't have to worry about missing deadlines or paying bills or letting small things fall through the cracks.
But then you have the crazy phases like this one when you're hot (or... your competitors are busy and you're plan B
... or C
... or D
) and you actually have to turn projects down.
I hate it, but there are worse problems to have.
The thing that drives me crazy though is the constant interruption.
We aren't big enough to need a full time secretary to field calls for us... so what's a small company like ours to do?
I was pondering that very point (as my phone rang AGAIN) about ten minutes ago, when it suddenly came to me: It's time to revamp the old concept of the answering service. I want to be able to turn off my phone (especially my cell phone) and have calls go to a friendly, professional, cool voice that reflects the personality of my company. I want a live person who sounds educated, friendly, competent, and in a good mood. A British accent won't hurt, but that might be a little too... James Bond or something. I want someone who will represent my company and be an extension of our brand (for lack of a better term). I don't ever, ever want any calls to go to voice-mail anymore.
Let's face it: Voice-mail sucks.
I just don't want to have to pay someone like this full time, because that's just not feasible for a company as small (purposely or not) as F360. I couldn't possibly pay them what they're worth, and they would get kind of bored working just for us. (I did mention the thing about F360 wanting to stay small, right?) I'm sure that THOUSANDS of companies and consultants are in the same boat.
So why not - being repetitive here - breathe new life into answering services?
The beauty of this is that two well briefed "operators" equipped with the right technology could easily take care of 5-10 companies each, spreading the cost around - making it affordable for everyone. A company like this could start small if need be, and grow as needed. Simple enough.
But the trick is this: What I want can't be on the level of a typical call center. The quality of the operator's voice, their level of professionalism, and the entire experience has to be top notch. It has to be the complete and total opposite of the downward trend that call centers have been adopting in the last few years. (Don't get me wrong - exporting call centers to countries like India, creating jobs for people and saving money in the process has its merits, but this type of answering service can't and shouldn't be done on the cheap.) I don't want someone whose command of the english language is horrible. I don't want someone who sounds like she smokes three packs of cigarettes a day and whose car is seven shades of bondo. I don't want minimum wage or someone who will be gone in a month.
I want Elizabeth Hurley or Jude Law.
What I want is for my clients or potential clients to be pleasantly surprised by the experience and be well taken care of when I am too busy to take their call.
If there already is such a service, let me know how to get in touch with them.
If not, it might be worth a closer look. I know a way to make this happen. (Investors: Hint. Hint.)
Have a great Wednesday, everyone.
(And yes, my phone is ringing again, right now.)
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