The phone is ringing. Someone picks it up and says, “Good morning, you’ve reached Green Trails. Can you hold please?” Before I can say “yes” or “no,” I’m on hold. And I’m annoyed. Not just because I’ve been put on hold, but because I wasn’t given a choice.

I called to ask if Green Trails had a particular item, but I figure I can call somewhere else and be treated better. I hang up. And Green Trails loses my business.

“Green Trails” doesn’t really exist, but I’m sure you’ve experienced a similar situation. That scenario asks a very important question — where does the sales process begin? It also answers it — as soon as the customer connects with your business. It doesn’t matter whether that connection is face to face over a store counter or simply over the phone. First impressions definitely impact sales.

While many businesses focus on face-to-face customer service, it’s just as important to pay attention to customer service in handling calls. Common courtesy is a great place to start, but it by no means ends there. Ideally, your customers should never be put on hold right when their call is answered. But if you have just one person answering your calls instead of a business answering service or virtual-receptionist service, that person should be courteous enough to wait for customers to answer the question before putting them on hold.

You also want to make sure callers can easily understand what’s said to them. Good articulation goes a long way toward making customers feel comfortable. While you might think you’re impressing customers with how busy you are by speaking quickly or immediately putting them on hold, truth is, that makes most customers feel you don’t care about them and don’t have time to help them.

No matter who’s answering your calls, be sure she has enough knowledge about your products and services to answer basic questions and ask for information to determine exactly what each caller needs or wants. Being able to direct customers to the right person or department for help is critical. Transferring customers around your organization is a quick way to frustrate them and encourage them to hang up.

Pay attention the next time you make a call. How is it handled? Are you taken care of right away or put on hold? Could you understand what was said to you? Did you get information you needed and/or get connected to the right person? Would you call back again? Take your experience and apply it to your own business to see how customers might feel when they interact with your company. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the importance of call handling in your sales process.

Learn more about Alert Communications business answering service solutions.

Frances Starr, Director of Sales & Marketing for Alert Communications. Alert Communications is a 24/7 bilingual inbound call center, specializing in professional attorney answering, virtual receptionist, Spanish answering and business answering solutions.