Actual Voice on the Line From 8 to 5, we like to have office staff, Helmut (the president), or myself, answer the phone. We try to answer by the second ring. After three rings callers get kicked to a general mailbox or can reach someone's voice mail.

I believe in the personal touch. Here in Milwaukee, we're conservative. People like to be huddled and cuddled. They hate that voice mail stuff. They say nine times out of 10, people don't call back. Then, when the customer calls them again, they say they never got the message. It's that first line of communication we have. People say it's nice to get a live person.

First Impressions Count I'd say that for older people, especially, it's important to get someone on the line. Younger people don't seem to mind a recorded message as much. But we think it's important that customers talk to someone — that people listen to what they say. If they do have to pass the call on to another person, they can.

When we do have to put callers on hold, we have a voice message that runs, because I hate listening to dead air when I'm holding. Callers maybe learn something they didn't know. We tell callers we offer design and build services, serving Milwaukee and surrounding homes since 1964, and, also, please hold, because help is moments away. We're always trying to make a good first impression — really good if at all possible — and to do that, we make sure it's in person.

Ken Connor, CR
Helmut's Remodeling Milwaukee
Big50 2003

Voice Mail Can Work We'll do about $4.5 million in volume this year, about 35 jobs, and we have eight people in the office and eight in the field. As you can imagine, with all the client and supplier contact we have, we need a voice mail system. Yet until months ago, we had none. Handwritten messages were often cryptic. Several clients, including older clients in their 60s, commented that they couldn't believe we didn't have voice mail.

We're dealing mostly with professionals. They want to leave detailed messages.

But the first system we implemented had limited options — it was an automated answer that allowed people to choose who they could talk to. If you couldn't find someone, you'd keep picking until you did.

The Right Mix We've found that a mix of answering styles works best. Now the system allows for people to pick up the phone if necessary or to let it go to voice mail. This way we have voice mail for detailed messages, but you can get a person to answer when someone is available.

The voice mail system works. We're going to interject the human being as we can. We merely need to provide a system so if the client has quick questions, or if someone in the field does, we can handle that.

We paid about $1,800 for the system, so from a return on investment standpoint, I save by not having someone always there.

Dan Weidmann, CR
Weidmann & Associates Roswell, Ga.
Big50 1998