Mike Roman knew that he would have clients from all segments of the catering industry, and he was always careful to be inclusive. When Mike talked about phone etiquette, for example, he prefaced his remarks by explaining that he understood that some caterers answered the phone from the kitchen as they were actively working to get the food out. While some owners had moved out of the trenches and into an office, Mike realized that many were not there yet.
That Was Me
I was one of those who stayed in the kitchen for a good portion of my career. During one of our many conversations, I asked Mike what he thought was the best way to answer incoming calls. He said, “just say, ‘catering, can I help you?’” I liked that idea’s directness and simplicity, and it stuck with us.
Instead of saying, “good afternoon, ABC Catering Company, how may I help you?” I was now free to cut that lengthy greeting to a few words. The problem was, I talked fast anyway, and this allowed me to speak even more quickly. More than a few times this happened:
Me: Catering, can I help you?
Caller: Hi, is this a bad time?
Me: No, I can talk.
Caller: You just seemed really busy and I didn’t want to interrupt you.
Me: No, sorry I gave you that impression. How can I help you?
Caller: Well, I’d like some ordering information.
Couldn’t Get Over It
At times along the way to $1.2 million in sales, our company became stuck at a certain volume level. At first I couldn’t understand why, for example, if we were doing $800,000 we weren’t able to easily move to $900,000. Then, the revelation struck me and I finally figured it out. I was the reason. By not taking the time to answer the phone calmly, I was communicating to potential customers that we were too busy to take any more business. Whether this happened subliminally or blatantly doesn’t matter. I was giving the impression that we were stressed—may even too occupied to handle a potential customer’s new order. Maybe they called back later, maybe they called someone else, or maybe they gave us the small orders and saved the big ones for someone they felt could handle it more efficiently. Regardless, my unconscious hurriedness on the phone was not helping instill customer confidence.
With Everyone Else Too
Next I realized that I was giving off this vibe to everyone including my employees and vendors. If everyone picked up on the fact that I was hurried, stressed and worried, no wonder our business had a hard time growing.
I knew I was still going to be intense—and I wasn’t changing my personality—but I now understood that I needed a calmer person on the phone. After I delegated that task, I had a little more time for other things and at least I was able to present a less-rushed and more-in-control image to everyone around me. The next step was the $1 million sales mark, and we got there and surpassed it.
Talk to Me
Think I am making too big a deal about phone etiquette? Think Mike Roman’s phone advice was totally wrong? Have any suggestions for future articles? Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I respond to everyone. Have a great catering week!