By Mark Duval - The Duval Partnership
The pandemic changed the way people work. Many agencies are still negotiating their return to the office, whether part-time or full-time, optional or mandatory. And for many, the office may never again be the constant central hub of activity that it was pre-pandemic.
After nearly two years of working through disruptions and virtual work conditions, agency leaders probably feel fairly comfortable with their virtual or hybrid office operations. After all, despite enormous challenges, agency teams have powered through it all with high levels of productivity.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern that leads me to believe something really important has been overlooked amid all of the workplace shuffling: many agencies have lost their receptionists.
Now, before you laugh and say, “We got rid of them on purpose” (as The Seattle Times has reported is trending), know that I’m 100% serious. And missing receptionists are just the tip of the iceberg.
The bigger problem is that agency leaders have deprioritized the prospective client experience, and most of them don’t seem to be thinking about it at all.
Agencies are in the service business. But you wouldn’t know it by calling a dozen agencies. Many of them will let your call ring until it rolls over to a general mailbox. And once you leave a message in that abyss, who knows whatever happens to it after that? Maybe someone will get back to you in a couple of business days? What kind of first impression is that?
Our work situations may be evolving, but we are no longer in crisis mode amid an abrupt and total disruption. It’s time for agencies to re-center the prospect experience. Failure to do so will cost them potentially valuable opportunities.
Advertising is a highly competitive industry. There is no shortage of agencies—not even great ones. So don’t make prospects work to speak with you. Don’t make them work for the privilege of giving you their business.
How does your agency make prospects feel?
We often talk about the importance of winning new business at every touchpoint. If prospects are sent into a black hole when they reach out to your agency, they may not feel it's worth the bother to leave a voicemail or to wait patiently for your call-back—or to ever consider your agency again. They have no loyalty to you.
Sending prospective clients to voicemail is impersonal, off-putting, not helpful, and it sends the message that they aren’t valuable to the agency.
Agencies risk losing potential prospects before they even make a connection because of how the prospect experience makes them feel.
What are you telling a prospective client when you can’t be bothered to answer their call during normal business hours? Certainly, it tells them right from the start that they aren’t important enough for you. Maybe your agency is too busy, and it doesn’t need or want any new business. Maybe your agency is understaffed, spread too thin and can’t afford someone to answer the phones. Maybe your agency has gone out of business or doesn’t have an office anymore.
Maybe the prospect won’t bother to think twice about your agency. Maybe they were narrowing a shortlist of agencies, and you just made it easier for them. Maybe they are better off with one of your competitors.
Do you really want to leave your agency’s new business opportunities up to “maybes”?
Some things to consider when re-evaluating your agency’s prospect experience:
- How easy is it to reach anyone within your agency? Are all team members listed on your website? Are all departments represented by the team members listed on your website? Are their phone numbers and email addresses accessible?
- If someone is not familiar with your agency and doesn’t have the name of a contact, but they know they need to speak with someone in a specific role or department to get the information they need, how hard is it for them to be connected with the appropriate party? (In particular, make sure that your new business leaders are easy to locate by name and connect with via multiple methods).
- When team members are working remotely, are they still reachable by phone? Do calls made to their office numbers roll over to their cell phones? In a long-term remote working environment, it’s not sustainable (or at least not good prospect experience) to send all calls to voicemail to be followed up at the recipient’s leisure. People should not always be unreachable.
- Does your agency’s welcome message include a directory with people’s names and direct extensions? Does the directory require a name to be spelled, or can it recognize speech? Many people may not know the correct spelling of the person’s name they are trying to reach, which can create unnecessary frustration.
- Are incoming calls typically answered by the third ring? How many times does the phone ring before the agency’s outgoing messaging starts up? Will most callers still be on the line by then, or will they have given up and moved on to the next agency?
- When voicemail messages are left in the general mailbox, who is responsible for them? How quickly are they listened to and followed up with?
- If you have a live person answering the main line during business hours, what is that experience like? Is the receptionist committed to helping the caller connect with the appropriate party? Are they put on hold for extended lengths of time? Or do they just keep getting transferred around to the voicemail boxes of various parties and having to call back until they finally give up?
- Is your agency’s best contact information to reach a live person for inquiries readily available on the website (name, phone number, and email address) and not just left to an anonymous “Contact Us” form?
- Who receives the notification of contact form submissions on your website? How quickly are those vetted, forwarded, and followed up with?
If your agency’s initial touchpoints with a prospective client leave room for improvement, make changes so that you can consistently make a positive first impression.
Does it really matter?
Missed connections are missed opportunities. When you quantify your missed connections and figure that even if you are only missing a couple of calls or form submissions a week, and only a fraction of them might have been viable new business opportunities, you could still be losing out on dozens of chances to generate new business each year. For agencies, even just one of those missed opportunities might have been a game-changer.
So much of new business is about connecting with the right people at the right time. We spend a lot of energy (often over multiple months) trying to generate enough interest for potential prospects to actively engage with agencies. So when they do, why make it so easy for them to eliminate your agency from consideration? Take steps to reduce the odds that their attempts to connect will lead to a "miss."
Amid all the other operational challenges and logistics that come with coordinating a hybrid or remote workforce, agencies must not overlook prospect experience.
No matter how your team works or where they work from, it’s important to have a helpful, friendly, live person answering your phones. It’s also helpful to ensure your team is findable and reachable by people who may not already know them (by job function, department, and title as easily as by name). Otherwise, you risk losing business opportunities.