Do your customers hang on or hang up?

On a busy night in most pizzerias delivery calls start out something like this: "Thank you for calling PMQ Pizzeria. Can you hold, please?" Or what about this one: "Thank you for calling PMQ Pizzeria. Can I take your order?" Customer responds with, "What are your specials?" Then your employee proceeds to list the specials. Rather than having a customer listen to silence or have an unmotivated employee just take the order, wouldn't it be better to inform them of specials or new menu items and try to increase your ticket sales?

There are several companies with phone solutions that 'deliver.' You can go with systems that take over when customers are put on hold or one of the more popular solutions that reacts to incoming calls before you hear the phone ring, commonly know as auto-attendants. These newer systems inform customers of specials or featured items before your employees even hear the phone ring. The benefits of this type of system are you can pre-sell each and every customer before you answer the phone, reduce the time spent on the phone, increase sales on selected items, provide directions and hours of operation or list specialty toppings every time.

Advantages

Statistical studies conducted by Fidelity Communications show systems that up-sell increase average ticket orders by 5 to 15 percent. Mike Wick with Message on Hold agrees and adds that it also decreases the time employees spend on the phone. One Domino's franchisee in Florida decreased the time spent on each call by six seconds per call. Multiply that by the number of phone-in orders you receive each week and you can see the benefit.

Tony DiPardo, owner of Kelso's Pizza, says his answering system, The Answer by Muzak, has been very affective in increasing their sandwich and appetizer sales. "Since we had The Answer installed, we have seen a 1,000 percent increase in hot wing sales and about a 50 percent increase in average ticket sales for to-go orders."

The thing that is most appealing, according to Tony, is that the system promotes and up-sells every time unlike employees who may occasionally forget or just not do it. Monte Hoskey, area supervisor for a franchisee with four stores in the Kansas City area, says that part-time employees don't always get the message across.

"After we had our answering system installed we saw a significant increase in sales," Monte says. "We added Jalapeno Poppers to our menu before we had an answering system installed. At that time we were selling three, maybe four orders a week. We were throwing away more than we were selling. After having our system installed and promoting the Poppers on it, sales have really taken off. Since it was installed four months ago, it has more than paid for itself."

There are also other features that you can take advantage of with telephone answering systems. They can provide off-hour messages for calls missed when you are closed and they can mention upcoming promotions and mention new menu items, which helps keep customers on the line and capitalizes on another valuable sales opportunity. They can also provide information on hiring opportunities.

Customers are less likely to become irritated and hang up if they are getting some useful information while they wait, not to mention they are more likely to add an appetizer if they know you are running a special or have added a new item to the menu. I'm sure you have some great employees, but can you honestly say they are promoting new or special items to every customer who calls? And couldn't their time be better spent doing something other than repeating the same message over and over again?

Manage Carefully

Of course, some people like talking to people more than machines. If you currently handle the phones with sterling personality and timeliness and don't have a high call-in volume where customers are put on hold, it may not be worth the money. If you have a lengthy message or leave customers listening to the same repeated message or music very long, there's a good chance they will hang up. The national average for a person's attention span is about 15 seconds. Like any other advertising, keep you messages short and to the point. If you have messages that are long, use an answering system that offers the customer a chance to go directly to an employee.

Another danger for messaging services, especially those where customers are put on hold after the employee answers the phone, is not attending to customers in the order they called. Many companies now offer systems with sequencers, which take the calls in the order they are received. On a busy night when employees have several customers on hold, it's difficult to remember who was put on hold first. A sequencing system solves this problem.

A mistake some operators make is recording the messages themselves or having radio stations record messages on tape for analog machines. If you want better results, have a professional record your messages digitally. You want a voice that customers will listen to and not one they can hardly understand or ignore. You want to make sure you have a good script and make sure the message isnÕt read too fast or too slow. The average life of a tape recording is about 30 days. At that point, the sound quality drops and there is a good chance the tape will break if it hasn't already. Poor messages, voices and recording can actually cause you down-sell.

Here is an important thing to remember when using messaging systems to up-sell; make sure you have the item advertised on hand. You are promoting certain items so you should expect to sell more than normal. If you want to really tick a customer off, let them hear about a special and decide that's what they want only to find out that you're out of that item. Don't overlook the obvious

Tips

Here are some tips to increase the impact of your messaging system. Coordinate the messages with current promotions. The more customers hear about a special, the more likely they will try it. Use up-front messages to promote and up-sell items that are highly profitable. Highlight items that may not be that well known to customers, like dessert pizzas, which are increasing in popularity, and your breadstick menu. Look for systems that can change messages during the day. You can get better results with messages that promote lunch special during the day and dinner specials at night than you will using the same message all of the time.

If you need a messaging solution that keeps customers from hanging up, contact one of the following companies for information on how they can help. PMQ

Fidelity 800-683-5600 www.fidelity.com
Message On Hold 800-392-4664 www.messageonholdnetwork.com
Muzak 800-331-3340 www.muzak.com