At the end of next week we are leaving for a 'work' holiday to The Netherlands. Besides the annual family dinners and visits to our suppliers in our home town we are also going to visit (finally, the invite has been offered almost a year ago) our design parquet manufacturer in the more Eastern part of our home country and add a few days to go 'site-seeing' in that area.
So we are away for a longer period than we normally are (4 days is mostly the top end of our 'holiday' time). Since I prefer to have our phone answered by a real person during our own absence I'd asked a friend about a company I knew he knew could provide an answering service. A day after I emailed my friend this company called me to discuss our 'needs'.
What we wanted - just one week of 'taking-over' and hopefully managing to direct callers to an appropriate page of our websites to find more information or to list urgent messages for us to return the call by mobile phone - was not what they standard offered. But he would put together a proposal for us - based on our requirements - email that straight over and give me a call back a day later.
At the end of that day his proposal arrived in my inbox - attached to his email was a professional prepared proposal that looked the 'part' - company brochure type of cover, you know the thing, in PDF form.
The cover was personalised: Presented to my name and our company name. Now we all know how effective a personalised message can be. Addressing someone by name instead of "Dear Sirs" is very simple nowadays with any proper Contact Relationships Management Program. First page of the proposal talked about them (not good).
Then on page 5 of the proposal I started to feel (tongue-in-cheek) insulted!
Headline of page 5:
Just so that we are proposing the right solutions for your organisation, we have identified and set out below the problems that you are currently experiencing.
And as 'our problems' a whole list of general issues I presume some of their clients will experience at one time or another:
- Your callers are not answered promptly
- Calls get missed because they go unanswered
- Because you have an answer phone, callers frequently hang up
- You feel you might be losing custom because of lack of resources
- Your answering is restricted to your office hours
- Your emergency number is misused out of working hours
- Answering calls on your mobile is inconvenient
- You are not meeting service expectations of your clients
- You are perceived as providing poor quality service
You know, I couldn't even be bothered to read their solutions for our specific needs.
If there is one thing our company is known for is a prompt, quick and efficient reply to any enquiry that comes in - no matter in what form: phone, email, visitor in our showroom. In the event a second call comes in while I'm still engaged with a caller, not only will an answering machine kick in - the phone number of the second caller is logged so even when no message is left we can return the call (if the number is of course not withheld).
And re 5 and 6: our business phone is redirected to our home phone after and before working hours! (And answering the phone after 'hours' sometimes gets very surprised reactions: oh, I was expecting an answering machine!).
As the title of this post suggests: there is a very fine line between personalised and generalised messages. Not all messages are standard suited for an automated personalised approach - so don't even try (or invest in a software program that does handle all the various options you offer your clients to automate your proposal: see here or here for an example - although the software still in beta-version it works a treat).
In those circumstances you don't have the possibility to automate all these avialable options, either:
- 'hand-write' your dedicated unique proposal based on your prospect actual requirements using a template that covers the standard message too
- email your standard brochure separate from your proposal letter
You can't have both.
My solution for our week away - edit the outgoing message of our answering machine and frequently check for messages to return the call.
And he never did call back to discuss this "based on our requirements" proposal too!