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11/16/2003

Connect with public; impressions lasting

By Stacy Cornay
Special to the Times-Call

Memories of Thanksgivings past … football, food, take-no-prisoners games of Uno, and calls to the Butterball hot line.

The Butterball hot line?

You bet your drumstick. That’s one of the best memories of all.

Back a couple decades or three, Butterball promoted a 24-hour tips hot line to help serve up the perfect Thanksgiving bird. Although the cooks in my family hold to their own convictions in the roasting and basting department, they decided to check out the other experts. They made repeated calls to the hot line, but couldn’t get through to the chef. Each call was met with an apology, and an explanation that the tremendous public response was inundating the hot line. We weren’t left on hold. We were thanked for our interest and encouraged to try again.

Through the day what began as a lark turned into an obsession. Long after our turkey was reduced to gnawed bones, my die-hard family cooks still were trying to reach out and touch the Butterball chef. From “I-don’t-need-anyone-telling-me-how-to-cook” grandma, to the “I-want-the-wishbone kids”, the whole family caught hot line fever. Bets were made on when we would get through, if we would get through, and whether a turkey or a chef would be on the other end of the line. We were having so much fun speculating and laughing about what we might say that we were a tad disappointed when we finally caught an open line.

For the record, there was a real live expert at the other end, not a turkey or a recording. It didn’t matter. We already were impressed that Butterball put itself out there for all comers — from the neophyte cooks to the let’s-check-it-out players like us.

That Thanksgiving hot line was an example of putting your customers first.

Today there would undoubtedly be an automated phone system and Internet links, but the premise remains sound — the ability to connect directly with your customers is invaluable.

How are you doing when it comes to reaching out to your customers, returning calls, and addressing their specific questions and needs? Do your recorded messages make them feel important? What do your recorded messages say — that you are too busy to take their calls? Do you prioritize messages received? Do you return calls?

Consider your answers, then consider this question: Why do you bother with phones in the first place?

The impression left when people call your business is critical to success. If you put off returning calls, or forget to get back to people, or assign someone else to return your calls, your business image suffers. It suffers even more if your callers are headed for a black hole when you put them on hold.

Take a critical look at your phone system, and practices, from the caller’s end of the line. If you have an automated system, is it user friendly? Can you navigate through it? Would you want to do business with the person behind the voice telling you which numbers to punch?

Butterball asked and answered those questions. When their phone system was overwhelmed, they were able to explain what was happening and build understanding. We were important to them, and they connected with us. We were all in it together. Consequently, I know that when I go home for Thanksgiving, there would be a Butterball in the oven.

No, this isn’t an ad for Butterball. It’s a push for those of us in business to recognize the importance of phones in our operations. Failure to do so could lead your customers to sing a line from the old Jimmy Buffet classic:

“If the phone don’t ring, it’s me.”

Stacy Cornay is owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising in Longmont. Her Web site, which contains previous marketing columns, may be found at www.ccpr.cc.