Today’s Technology Can Transform Your Business Phone into One of Your Most Formidable Marketing and Management Tools
Sometimes something very simple that we take for granted every day may be overlooked as a great management tool. If you are a laundry owner like me, you may have a telephone in your store, but what you may not know is that, with the advent of cloud technology, the telephone in your laundry can become an important part of your brand, as well as a great management and marketing tool – at a very affordable cost.
What I’m referring to is a multitude of internet-based VOIP phone systems specifically targeted to small-business owners with monthly subscription fees of $15 to $50 with brand names like eVoice, Grasshopper and RingCentral, just to name a few. In fact, there are now more than 20 of these services, commonly known as “virtual phone,” “virtual PBX” or “VOIP phone.”
VOIP phone service is nothing new, and chances are you have seen TV commercials promoting residential VOIP phone service like Vonage, magicJack and Ooma, You may already be using such a service at home, but these services tend to lack scalability and many of the other enhancements you can get with the small-business virtual phone systems.
Some of these enhancements include the ability to create a phone menu with multiple extensions, which can be dedicated to specific attributes of your laundry business such as drop-off laundry service or commercial laundry service, as well as extensions for your laundry locations and employees. Typically, these services will include a professional pre-recorded greeting and customizable transfer or hold music. If you want to customize the system even more, you can script your menu and hire someone to professionally record your custom greetings with a low-cost option like fiverr.com. If you have a large Hispanic customer base, you can also create greetings and responses in Spanish.
Some other enhancements include the ability to track and log all of the phone calls in and out of your laundry, as well as the ability to record the phone conversations or to listen in on live phone conversations. Most systems will also forward calls to your mobile phone and some will also allow you to place calls from your mobile phone with the caller ID of your laundry. Most of these services will also send any phone messages you receive to email, with the message saved as a recording or transcribed into text. Some of the services also provide a fax service, which allows you to send faxes and receive faxes into your email. If you have a smartphone, all of these services are “real time” and can reach you on the go, no matter where you are or what you are doing.
If you want to get the full use out of such a system, it will take some time to set it up and, if you use it effectively, it will also take some time to manage, so this is not an undertaking you want to do on a whim, even though almost any of the services will allow you a free trial period. Keep in mind that you will also have to port your current phone number over. But, the good news is that most phone services have excellent customer service to get you going and, once you start, you will be amazed with all of the different ways you can use the service.
Once you make the switch, the first thing you will notice is how productive virtual phone services can be. The most obvious example is the elimination of unwanted phone calls and solicitations. In Texas, where I am located, for example, when you file your business with the state, your business information is automatically sold to various mailing and call lists, which results in a tremendous number of “robocalls” and unwanted solicitations. Before we switched to a virtual phone system, I estimate my employees answered three to four of these calls each shift, keeping my employees from helping customers, cleaning the laundry or performing drop-off laundry service. In addition, our greeting now includes several options for the caller, such as pre-recorded business hours and directions, which again keep my employees off the phone, allowing them to be more productive. I estimate these benefits alone pay for the phone system.
If you happen to be one of those owners who carry two mobile phones – one for the laundry and one for personal use – you can perform both functions with one phone with a virtual phone system by forwarding the calls you chose from the laundry to your mobile phone, and perhaps more importantly, you can also place calls from your mobile phone with the caller ID of your laundry, which is especially helpful when dealing with a customer complaint where you don’t want the customer to have the ability to keep calling you back. Calling with the laundry ID from your mobile phone is also a good way to return calls to customers or even to solicit new business – all from your mobile phone no matter where you are. If you are a multi-store owner, you can also eliminate a separate phone number for each location and assign each one a separate extension to further reduce your phone subscription cost.
If you don’t have a fax machine or pay for a cloud-based fax service like eFax, most of the virtual phone services provide this feature at no additional fee, and you can receive or send faxes from your mobile phone. Depending on the phone service, you may also be able to broadcast faxes if you promote your laundry this way. Faxes are less common these days, but they are still more secure than e-mail, for example, and we frequently use the fax service at my laundry to receive credit card information kept on file for our drop-off and commercial laundry accounts.
But what excites me most about virtual phone systems is all the different ways I can market my laundry for a very small cost. When a customer calls our laundry main number, for example, one of the extensions is specifically for in-store promotions. It costs me nothing to add this extension, nor any employee time, and trust me, we get plenty of calls just to know when we run an impromptu special or deal such as 99-cent washes.
Our phone menu also includes separate extensions for our drop-off and commercial laundry service, which further explain the service and the cost, but also allow customers to leave messages if they have additional questions. In the case of drop-off, which is a new concept for many customers (especially non-traditional customers who already have a washer and dryer at home), being able to return the call and answer any lingering questions almost always results in closing the deal.
In my case, I route all of the drop-off messages to my email so that I can personally call the customer back and, although some of my employees may be able to perform this function, I get a much higher degree of success when I do it myself; however, if I’m too busy I can forward the message to my supervisor, for example, and have her follow up. In the case of calls inquiring about commercial laundry service, I have those forwarded immediately to my mobile phone. When I answer, the commercial laundry prospect has no idea if I’m a salesperson behind a desk or a busy laundry owner using his mobile phone while driving a company van to make an emergency delivery for a good customer. Again, using the phone system to follow up on drop-off and commercial laundry opportunities more than pays for the system.
If you are contemplating targeting a new market for your laundry, such as commercial laundry service, you can also use a virtual phone system to create a separate identity for that market and to track your success. For an additional cost, you can get a separate phone number that you can then forward to your phone system, which in turn can forward the call to your mobile phone. With a separate phone number, you can create a separate identity to differentiate your service from your laundry and use it as a “trial balloon,” which you can pull at any time depending on your success rate.
Again, using commercial laundry service as an example, you could advertise such a service on Craigslist.com with a separate service name and phone number to test the market. If your approach doesn’t work, you can pull the separate service name and phone number and move on to pursuing a different market without any impact to your current laundry brand or name. Because the phone system logs all calls, you can see how much interest your effort receives via the call activity to that number. You can also follow up on any calls or inquiries for callers who didn’t leave a message or who were not forwarded to your mobile phone.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you can also use a virtual phone service to better define your brand. The service we use, for example, includes all long-distance fees in the subscription, so that overlooked phone I mentioned at the beginning of the article sitting on the laundry counter is available to our customers at no cost. Even though many of your customers may now have mobile phones, I can assure you our “free” phone gets used a lot by those who either don’t have a mobile phone or have one that may be low on minutes or in need of a battery charge. Very few customers abuse the privilege, which usually gets used for something simple like asking for a ride home or help for a vehicle that won’t start.
We also have an extension that leaves a message with the manager so that the customer can provide feedback to the manager, much like comment cards but verbally in their own words where they are more likely to “articulate” their concerns. All the customer has to do is walk over to the counter, grab the “free” phone and dial extension 16 to leave me a message. And, of course, there is the image your business can project with the phone greeting you chose – if you want, it can sound like a Fortune 500 corporation, a neighborhood business or the personal extension of a “mom and pop” business. You may be able to train your employees to answer the phone to project the same image, but with a virtual phone system, the task is done automatically, the same way every time, while freeing up your employee to better serve your laundry customers.
Yes, there may be a few customers who don’t like what they perceive to be “voicemail jail,” but there is a reason why so many companies have switched to virtual phone systems – and now entrepreneurs, like laundry owners, by virtue of the cloud, can do the same at a nominal cost.
For a good comparison of virtual phone system features and costs, visit https://virtual-phone-systems.bestreviews.net/.