“What Do I Do When the Phone Is Ringing Off the Hook?”

This is the second week in a series of responding to reader submissions, questions, and topic suggestions. I like answering your emails because they are real-world and they may relate to your job, your life, and your sales efforts. I’m going to do my best to answer every single question over the next few weeks. If you’ve got more questions, my inbox is open!

Captain Reman,

I need your help. At least once or twice a week we get so busy at my shop that I don’t know what to do. I can have a few customers in the lobby, two calls on hold, and the phone won’t stop ringing. No matter what I do I seem to upset someone – and my conversion ratio is much lower on these calls then when I have the time to really work with a caller. What’s the best way to keep everyone happy?



Here’s the good news: you’ve got a high-class problem (sometimes called a champagne problem). I know quite a few shops that wish they were so busy that they wouldn’t be able to handle all the traffic. You’re right to be concerned about upsetting your prospects and customers. Here a few thoughts to put you on the right track:

1. There’s nothing wrong with being busy. In fact, it’s a good sign. It helps you prove that your shop is a good shop. It’s sort of like visiting a busy restaurant. When you see a restaurant is busy, it makes you think “Hey! That place must be good – I’d like to go there. It’s obviously worth the wait. Let’s have a drink at the bar and see why everyone is trying to get in.”

2. Remember that although you may be answering the phone for your 10,000th time, it’s very possible that this is the first time your prospect is calling in. Your mission is to make them realize that they made a great decision to call you. Give the caller the confidence that they need to bring their car in by treating them with respect, patience, and empathy.

3. Putting your customers on hold (for longer than a few seconds) is the single best way to chase them away. They leave frustrated and rarely call back. When you leave people on endless hold, all the time and money you’ve spent to get that lead in the first place goes toward helping your competition earn new business.

4. When you’re busy, it’s better to explain that up front and ask the caller for permission to call them right back. Say, “Thanks so much for calling. I apologize that I can’t help you right now but I’m taking care of another customer and you both deserve my full attention. If you’d give me your name and number, I’ll call you back as soon as possible and I’ll take great care of you.”

5. I’m often asked to explain whether a customer in your lobby is more important than a customer on the phone. I think that’s nuts. Everyone is important. Treat all of your customers the same – like gold. Ask your friendliest employee from the back to come out front and help out. Buy your visitor a cup of coffee and implore them to bear with you while you take a few messages.

6. Finally, you may want to think about training a back up who can help you at the counter or on the phone when you are blessed with too much traffic. They might not be your best salesperson, but they’re better than your on-hold music.

©westfotos.de/ Dollar Photo Club

©westfotos.de/ Dollar Photo Club

I had an experience yesterday that was like a gift from above. Actually, the experience itself was horrible, but it was so much like what you described that I had to share it with you.

I have an older convertible that I drive in the summer and it needed new tires. I called my local tire shop because I’ve gone there for years and I really like the guy who runs it. My call was answered on the second ring.

Note: I’ve omitted the name of the store to protect the guilty.

“Thank you for calling. Can you hold, please?” said the guy who answered the phone. Without waiting for my response, he then put me on hold. For eternity. I held for 4 minutes and 37 seconds before I hung up. Most people would never call back. They’d dial another shop and wind up taking their car to whoever answers.

I, however, called again because I had a relationship with this particular tire shop.

This time, the guy who answered the phone said, “Hi – hold please,” and instantly put me back on hold. I turned on my speakerphone and listened to their hold music and messages for a whopping 9 minutes and 12 seconds before I gave up.

I waited an hour before I tried again. On my third call, I was determined to talk to someone.

“Thank you for calling. Can you hold, please?”

“No! I’ve been trying to get through to you all morning. All I want to know is if I can bring in my car and have you swap tires for me today?”

“Sure,” the guy said. “We’re not that busy in back. Bring it over anytime and we’ll get it done right away.”

Not that busy in back, huh? I wonder why…

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