Use benefits of phone system to increase sales, productivity

hostess answers phoneInvesting in a call management system, whether simple or sophisticated, is money well spent when operators learn to take full advantage of the system’s features.

Today’s call management systems have the capacity for multiple to unlimited phone lines, messaging capabilities that increase productivity and sales, integration with your POS and the ability to handle customer calls even when connections are down.

With such potential, a call management system is definitely more than just a couple of phones and choosing a provider is a critical business relationship.

“Phone quality is the biggest issue; you need to be able to hear the customer the first time,” says Josh Rowe, director of technical operation for Pizza Phone in Lansing, Michigan. “Look for a system provider who is willing to take care of phones, who includes a warranty on the phones from the wear and tear in a pizzeria.

Look for a provider who constantly has upgrades and expandability. You don’t want to have to buy a new system because you’ve outgrown it in five years.”

Rick Stanbridge, President of Fidelity Communications Corporation in Novi, Michigan, advises operators to look for a provider that has technicians who can guarantee response time in under two hours.

A phone system must be 100-percent reliable and have the ability to pick up all your calls within three rings, so if you are busy more than one person can pick up, says Casey Hart, president and chief marketing strategist at Informer Website Videos in New York.

“Ideally, a pizzeria owner would want a call system that can handle a lot of voice traffic as well as route, direct and forward calls. A voicemail system and automated attendant may be nice touches, too. You’re going to need a phone system with multiple lines and extensions to handle more than one incoming call at a time,” says Reuben Yonatan, CEO and editor-in-chief at GetVoip.com, in Great Neck, New York.

“It’s important to have a system that can store or forward Caller ID information to your POS,” Stanbridge says.

Al Newman, director of training for Hungry Howie’s, says successful integration with your POS is complicated.

“The pause/resume feature — the system has to have the ability to not record credit card information,” Newman says. “In most POS systems when you ask for the payment information, you enter into a payment screen, the POS sends a message to the call system to not record information. The POS has to integrate with call recording to know when to record and not record; it’s illegal to record payment information.”

The POS integration also allows a courtesy call to be placed to the customer when the delivery driver has left the restaurant, Stanbridge says.

To increase the level of customer service, the live coach feature of a phone system allows a manager to listen in and “coach” a CSR through the call without the customer’s knowledge, Newman says.

Reports generated by the call system can reveal what’s working and what’s not working in a restaurant, Rowe says, if operators pay close attention to the details.

A system with messaging options has the potential to increase sales. “If you have to put a caller on hold, you can increase your average order by 18 to 40 percent with a marketing message that advertises ‘add-ons’ — salads, drinks, mozzarella sticks, garlic knots — and ‘upgrades’ — premium menu items, meat dishes,” Hart says. “The messages cannot be pushy, but more helpful.”

Stanbridge says that if you put one bundled special (upfront special) on the recording, 30 percent of callers will order it.

“The suggestive selling part of a call management system is important; no pizzeria should be without it,” Stanbridge says.

Rowe suggests the “hold” message be three to five minutes long with multiple messages like info on the restaurant’s Facebook page, mobile app and online ordering.

“At the two minute marker, apologize for the wait and say, ‘Mention this code to your server for so much off the order,’” Rowe says. “A customized on hold message is huge.”

Newman recommends enlisting the services of a professional messaging company to record the messages; change messages frequently and customize open, closed and holiday messages. “If you keep the same message up, you are defeating the purpose and capability of the messaging system,” he says.

Since a phone number is the lifeline to customers, operators need to own it. “Look into number portability. You want to make sure you can port over your existing number to and from any provider,” Yonatan says. “Being that your phone number can be a huge point of contact for new and existing customers, you want to make sure you own your phone number, that it isn’t leased, and you want to make sure you can take it with you at anytime.”

By ignoring fine print, operators risk losing time and money. “Avoid metered plans,” Yonatan says. “You’re likely to be using your phone system a lot, so don’t limit yourself to monthly minutes — it could end up costing a lot more. Another thing to look out for are contracts. Business is very fast-paced, and if your provider is unable to meet your needs, you want to be able to move on without having to pay fees.”

Advances in technology are giving operators even more options for phone systems. “There are two ways to bring in phone lines: the first is the traditional way of bringing in regular lines — which is still the best way to do it and the most reliable –– and second, is through voiceover IP which is using the Internet to place phone lines,” Stanbridge says.

Although using voiceover IP technology can be inexpensive, Stanbridge says operators need to be certain they have enough bandwidth from the provider to handle the call volume and there is potential for echoing on the line and dropped calls.

“We believe voice over IP will be the norm in five years from now, but it’s not there now,” Stanbridge says.

According to Rowe, because the system offered by Pizza Phone relies on the Internet, operators will have unlimited phone lines and not have to rely on an onsite system, pay high installation fees or hardware costs.

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.

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