Column: Invest in the Front Line

I am consistently puzzled by how poorly so many businesses handle the first touch point of their operations. So often the receptionist of a doctor, dentist, hair stylist or spa facility is a gruff or unpolished neighborhood hire who takes pride in getting clients off the phone quickly. Even worse is the spouse or relative in this position who has determined that their role is to protect their physician/family member from being bothered by clients all together. They’re masters at being dismissive of simple inquiries. When you ask them for an appointment, you’re told the time slot you want is taken; no option for another slot is offered.

I can add up hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars of potential business I’ve steered away from such enterprises, for the simple reason that I can’t stand contacting them anymore. I’ve had a dentist’s husband/office manager chide me, a vet’s assistant reprimand me and a chiropractor’s receptionist who was so inexperienced in making appointments it took her five minutes to slot three follow-up dates for me. (Yes, you’re welcome for this glimpse inside my fascinating life.)

Travel advisors lament that some of their clients don’t want to bother them with smaller trip requests. Is it possible that they’ve built up an entourage around them that the customer perceives as imperious? Is the client made to feel timid and unimportant when they call or e-mail with simple requests? You might not realize this is even happening outside your door.

This brings us to the art of writing a business e-mail. Anne Scully of McCabe World Travel got me going on this topic. She is a stickler for ensuring her advisors treat their e-mail communications as if they are writing a formal business letter. Bravo for Anne, her advice could be used for every business operation in the country. Have you ever gotten an e-mail from a company you’ve spent a lot of money with, only to have your name spelled wrong and the message laced with grammatical errors? It’s a turnoff that might not kill a relationship immediately, but if the client is already having a bad day, it might spur a bad reaction. At the very least, it creates the impression that your office is not focused on the details, which is not a good thing when you’re selling travel.

Look at what’s happening on your front line. Unless you’ve got someone with the most amazing customer relationship talent imaginable, reconsider why you hired someone with minimal skills to be sitting at your doorstep. Now that so many companies have made customer service a huge priority to remain competitive, we’re all very aware of those that do not excel in this practice. It smacks us hard in the face when we’re treated carelessly.

Even if you run a relatively small operation, don’t act like a mom-and-pop business. If you’re taking money from people for your services, do not surround yourself with colleagues who sound rude or ignorant. That image is only going to rub off on you whether you realize it or not.

Simply put, if you have someone on your team who is a good “closer,” realize that it’s just as important to invest in a good “opener” who welcomes new business and delivers it to your capable hands.