Posted on September 24, 2019 by Casey Houser
We re-worked our phone tree in our own design sprint so you don’t have to do it alone.
In our blog this month, we have discussed the concept of sprint planning as it applies to tasks like editing your own phone tree. This goal of these sprints is to complete a meaningful project within 30 days.
In those posts, we’ve challenged you to complete your own design sprints. Now, to help you even further, we want to share the results of the sprint VirtualPBX used to improve the menu of its Automated Attendant. We called our own phone tree, analyzed its menus, and cleaned up the language which you can now hear when calling our main company phone number.
What is a Design Sprint?
The idea behind a sprint – whether it’s called a design sprint or referred to as sprint planning – is to complete a significant project at your company in a reasonable amount of time. The typical scope of a project should encompass no more than 30 days of work.
Sprints were originally developed for businesses that completed a lot of smaller tasks. Software development firms, for instance, could use sprints to release versions 5.02, 5.03, and 5.04 of their broader version 5 software across consecutive months. Each of the iterations would build upon the last and might include small feature releases or security improvements.
Notably, the sprints would avoid major improvements like a graphic redesign of the whole software package. That would take more than a month to complete; therefore, it would defeat the idea behind smaller iterations that combine into a greater whole.
At your own company, you can begin with design sprints by setting a goal, examining the goal’s pace and expected results, and being open to new information as you proceed. This type of analysis is discussed in more depth in the preceding link above and will be shown in specific examples below as you see how we re-worked our phone tree.
Our Phone Tree Project
Setting a Goal
Our goal for this design sprint was to optimize the messages contained within our Automated Attendant. We had multiple menus that were long-winded, so we knew that the journey through our phone tree could be much quicker and more efficient for inbound callers.
Pace and Expected Results
We knew this project would reach the edge of the 30-day mark. In summary, our steps within the overall project were as follows:
- Create a transcript of our phone tree menus
- Edit the transcript to tighten the language
- Record the new language into the Automated Attendant
We expected each step to take about a week. The project involved several departments – including several members of Marketing who approved the new language and company managers who fact-checked the material – and required the use of a third party to complete professional voice recordings of our transcript.
Creating the transcript of our phone tree menus was a relatively straightforward task. A member of the VirtualPBX staff simply called our main business phone number and listened to the presented messages. The various scripts were then placed into a shared document that others could edit.
We ended up with a starting group of a main menu, after-business-hours menu, and various sub-menus for departments like Sales and Services.
Editing the transcript proceeded similarly throughout the various menus. As an example, consider the main menu text that started our journey:
“Hello and thank you for calling VirtualPBX. Your call is very important to us. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. For Sales, press 1. For Technical Support, press 2. For general account queries including plan changes, press 4. For Billing, press 5. And for all other questions or to reach an operator, please press 0.”
We took a heavy pen to the text by removing unnecessary language like the initial “Hello” and the following “your call is very important to us.” We knew that, by simply saying “Thank you…” that we were already greeting the caller and asserting that their call is important to us.
The paring of that greeting landed us with this final script:
“Thank you for calling VirtualPBX. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. For Sales, press 1. For Technical Support, press 2. For general account queries including plan changes, press 4. For Billing, press 5. And for all other questions or to reach an operator, please press 0.”
By sticking to the bare essentials, we cut down the time it took to hear our menu options while keeping the language polite and informative for customers. We re-worked all of our menus with this same mindset and remained open to new information when the demands of one sub-menu were not identical to others.
We weren’t derailed when a sub-menu, for instance, required more explanation to callers about who they could reach or about the nature of a group (like addressing the nature of our 24/7 Support). On the contrary, we held steadfast to the ideal that each menu should be as short but as informative as possible. Your own transcript revisions should always ask, “What does the customer need here?” But that question shouldn’t force you into lengthy passages that contain information better addressed by an individual associate.
Recording the transcript allowed us to involve Snap Recordings. We sent our final transcript, including all our sub-menus, to the professionals at Snap who returned crisp audio files for use as we saw fit.
In this case, we uploaded our greetings into our Automated Attendant and made sure that the stated options in the audio matched our departments.
This final step in our design sprint was made easier through the Dash Phone System interface we offer to customers and which we use ourselves. Uploading was easy, and configuration of the menu options involved only a few clicks.
Get Started on Your Project
If you haven’t yet called your own phone tree, we hope you’ll begin soon.
The process of completing a design sprint, as we have shown here, can move smoothly if you prepare well and stick to your mission. We completed our own sprint in less than a month, but not because we practice this task often. Our phone tree was well overdue for a rewrite!
We stuck to the guidelines of the design sprint to achieve our goal. You can do it too.
Posted on September 17, 2019 by Casey Houser
Although it may seem like a silly goal at first, it can be extremely valuable for your team members to learn about business-related communication types.
Within your business, you might speak upward to a manager, downward to a subordinate, or laterally to a co-worker. Then, with a broad scope, you might also speak with customers. Both internal and external communication might not come easily to everyone at your company, so it can be a helpful tool to educate them about how they might manage these various styles of communication. Moreover, learning communication types can help them better assist customers with sales and services.
To that end, let’s again use the sprint planning model – this time to create a company document that outlines each communication style.
Communication Types Overview
We’ll start with a quick overview of a few broad communication types. This will set the stage for using them as part of a business sprint.
Upward Communication (Internal)
Speaking upward refers to communication a person would have with their manager or anyone higher than them in the ranks at a company.
This communication type is often exemplified by formality. They’re initiated with simple greetings like “Hello” or “Good morning.” Then they’re often closed with a “Good bye” or “Thanks.”
The body of any conversation can vary widely in context. However, it can include shares of important information that begin from the bottom and move upward. In other words, it’s proper for employees to share information with managers about their department activities so the hierarchy can function effectively.
Downward Communication (Internal)
Speaking downward refers to communication a manager would have with an employee. It’s the direct opposite to upward communication.
This communication type will likely include all the niceties of upward communication. “Hello” and “Thanks” will continue. However, it will seek to gather information in many cases rather than share it.
A manager who expects to be informed about department activities would need to listen more than share. They might ask leading questions such as, “What has your progress been on Project X?” to inquire about a specific task that’s been a recent priority.
Lateral Communication (Internal)
Speaking laterally refers to communication between employees on the same level of the business hierarchy. Two entry-level employees speaking with one another is one example. A board meeting of department vice presidents is another.
In these cases, some informal language could become commonplace. There’s no need to impress and no threat of being reprimanded. Greetings like “Hey” could replace “Hello.” A “See ya later!” could end a conversation.
The type of information passing at this level could include both shares and inquiries. Managers might need to know about the ongoing activities in other departments, so they might ask leading questions for that purpose. Entry-level employees could just as easily share their experiences with onboarding activities or about their similar day’s tasks.
External Communication With Customers
All the previously-discussed communications types here are defined as internal because they happen within a company. When anyone at the company speaks to a customer, it’s defined as external communication.
Like the upward and downward types of internal communication, external is usually more formal than informal.
Employees at any level should greet customers with a formal “Hello” or “Good morning.” Then they’ll want to continue with that same style of discussion throughout the conversation.
This mode of communication is similar to downward communication because it also relies on information gathering. You will always want to help the customer with some type of issue – whether it’s signing up for a service or troubleshooting a broken product. This requires a lot of listening on the part of the business so issues can be addressed efficiently.
Communication Types in a Sprint
You can create your own communications document as part of a business sprint. The steps are straightforward enough that the task shouldn’t take more than a few weeks.
1. Define Your Goal, Educate Yourself
Your goal here is to create a shareable document that everyone at the company can read to learn about communication types.
To create that document, you’ll want to educate yourself about the types listed above and the ways in which they affect your company. Look into other literature about communications styles, and look at the relationships your business contains.
Most businesses will have a structure that places managers above employees and will see multiple people in those types of positions. Your business will have its own unique elements, though, so it will be good to note where the least and most communication takes place.
2. Speak to Department Heads
A great way of gathering information about how your company functions is by speaking to department heads.
These individuals may not be involved in every discussion in their department. But if they’re effective managers, they will witness most of what takes place.
They will be able to share the types of conversations they have with others at the company. Furthermore, they can share what they’ve seen between others, which can lead you to further interviews with employees.
3. Speak to Employees
Your conversations with department heads should lead you to employees.
These individuals can give you reciprocal information about how the department functions and what communication types are most prevalent.
In Steps 2 and 3 you will be creating a sort of ethnographic study. While this could be interesting regarding each department’s actual function (or disfunction!), the primary goal is to use what you’ve learned here in Step 4 where you’ll compile exact information as it applies to your company’s operations.
4. Write the Document
You will want your document about communication types to include both generalized and specific information.
In particular, it could be helpful to start with an overview of the types and their functions within any organization. This will allow readers to become familiar with the broad strokes of the topic.
Then you can you move into specific examples of how one person might speak to another. You can draw from your interviews with managers and employees to create short scripts about, for instance:
- A manager asking an employee how a project is progressing
- A middle manager providing a progress report to the CFO
- An entry-level sales person speaking to a customer
Finishing an Effective Sprint
While it won’t be possible for you to address every last communications situation, you can touch on a number of common themes revealed from your interviews with individuals at the company. This will help everyone at the company get an overarching look at the way the company functions at its core, and it could educate individuals who aren’t aware of specific differences in communications style across organizational levels.
The impact of your document could spur behavioral change at any level of the company. Although it could seem obvious to some people that formality is generally required when speaking to customers, not everyone has had the same personal or professional upbringing.
At VirtualPBX, we might want to use this document as part of our onboarding process for new employees. Our own KP360 post about managing a remote team speaks about introducing new hires to standard company documents. This type of instruction, alongside other introductory materials, can help us better handle sales of our Business Phone System by preparing employees to deal with customers and the managers who monitor their work.
Your sprint in this particular instance could also lead to future shorter sprints that use this document as their lead. You could create a sprint with the goal of creating an educational spreadsheet about communications types. Or you could take your ethnographic pseudo-study and show members of the company how various departments are working (or not working) well.
In any case, using this project as your first sprint should create some positive effects at your company and will help you better understand the way a sprint works to lead a project along a timely schedule.
Posted on September 12, 2019 by Casey Houser
In the light of our recent blog about sprint planning, we wanted to provide a deeper look at that process through a specific example: Calling your own phone tree.
Today’s post will break down the process of reworking your Automated Attendant – also known as a phone tree – to improve the initial experiences callers have with your business. Follow along to see how you can do this on your own.
Break It Down
Define Your Goal
The initial step in creating a business sprint is to define your goal. Ask yourself what you want to achieve at your business that will make your relationship with customers better. In the example of this article, the goal is this: We want to make our phone tree more efficient.
Instead of just making the phone tree better, you should focus on the word efficient in this case because sprint planning is all about completing measured tasks in short periods of time. You want to keep your goals achievable, measurable, and relatively quick.
Better is too broad and could lead to a number of conclusions about what’s necessary to complete this project. Efficiency suggests something quick, dense, and packed with helpful information, which is exactly what you want your automated attendant to be.
Determine Your Time Period
Business sprints afford you, at most, a month of time to complete a goal. This method keeps your goals in check because it makes you choose tasks that won’t exceed that time period.
Consider the Customer
Once your primary goal is established, think about how your goal affects your customers.
One easy way businesses can become stuck is through their phone trees. As a customer, you have probably sat through an automated menu of choices (“Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Marketing) that’s too long or meanders through its options.
Customers can become frustrated with this inefficiency. It may feel like a waste of time. And if they don’t give up on a call altogether, they’ll at least begin their call in a sour mood.
Now that you know the headaches your customers can feel when interacting with poorly-made phone trees, you have a good starting point for creating measurable sub-goals to complete during your sprint.
We’ll focus on three here:
- Create a transcript of all phone tree messages
- Pare down the language to make the customer’s trip more efficient
- Upload new messages with a clear voice and background music
Work on Your Sub-Goals
Although it would be possible to break down every sprint into smaller and smaller goals – thereby creating many smaller sprints with each iteration – it’s not necessary to bury yourself in the specifics of what should and shouldn’t become a new sprint.
You only need to look at the scope of your overall goal and think about what individual tasks need to take place to achieve that goal. Our three sub-goals for this phone tree example project are fairly succinct and shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks for each task. Here’s some detail about what you should try to achieve in each step.
1. Create a Transcript
Time: 1 Week
The first step to reworking your phone tree is to listen to all the messages in your automated attendant.
Call your own business phone number and type out the messages you hear. Listen to the introduction and all the menus. Listen to any sub-menu messages.
A visual interface to this system, like the one provided in our Dash Phone System shown here, may make the transcription process a little easier to visualize. However, it doesn’t take the place of writing down all the messages your customers can reach.
2. Pare Down the Language
Time: 1 Week
Once everything is written down, start cutting the language.
Introductory phrases, like “Hello, you’ve reached Frannie’s Floral Arrangements, the fanciest full-service floral shop on the east coast and that’s ready to serve all your needs for individual, parties, and more…,” could be shortened to a simple “Hello, you’ve reached Frannie’s Floral Arrangements.”
Your customers only need to know who they’ve called. The name of your business makes that clear. Then your phone tree options will make it clearer where the paths lead.
Push essential information to the top of your message. Be polite and say hello, and then provide customers with an immediate list of quick choices. If callers can reach extensions at any time, let them know it’s possible. And reserve extra information for after the “Press 1 for Sales…” language.
Your customers will be happy to hear about your business hours and available promotions after they know how to reach individuals at your company.
3. Upload Your New Messages
Time: 2 Weeks
Once you’ve made your messages as succinct as possible without losing clarity, you can put them back into the automated attendant.
You will need to begin by recording your messages again. This can be done in house, or it can be outsourced to a professional recording company.
You can also choose to provide light background music to your message. Although this isn’t necessary, it’s available again as an in-house option or an option from a professional recorder.
The length of this final step will be determined by the number of messages you need to record. Some businesses will have a simple introduction message and a handful of primary phone tree options. Others may have sub-menus applicable to different departments and groups.
Replicate This Phone Tree Example
Now it’s your turn to replicate this example. If your phone tree sounds like it needs a fresh message, take it apart and put it back together.
If you’re already a VirtualPBX customer, you can find even more guidance in our Support page about Incoming Call Handling with your Automated Attendant.
For only a month’s worth of effort, you can make your Business Phone System more efficient and improve the happiness of the customers who interact with your brand.
Remember that every inbound caller will need to cross paths with your automated attendant. This project is a great way to introduce your company to the business sprint and an even better way to improve your interaction with all customers who want to reach you.
Posted on September 10, 2019 by Casey Houser
One business planning style that’s become popular with fast-paced offices is called agile, which can involve sprint planning as a method of defining goals throughout a company’s calendar.
In short: Sprint planning has businesses define short-term goals that are attainable within no more than a month’s work. Businesses complete a sprint within the specified time period and then plan a follow-up goal for a successive sprint.
At VirtualPBX, we might use sprints to define goals for the development of our Business Phone System or for the improvement of our Sales or Marketing processes. Sprints can work for a range of tasks, and you can follow this method at your own business by clearly defining a goal, considering its scope, and being flexible with your results as new information arises throughout the month.
Define Your Goal
The most salient idea behind sprint planning is that your goals should be achievable. A sprint gives you a month, at most, because it tries to strike a balance between pace and results.
The goal you have in mind might require a month’s worth of work. It may only require two weeks. Or maybe even one week.
Whichever length you choose, you shouldn’t try to rush yourself. Be realistic with your time investment estimate. Make sure your grasp doesn’t exceed your actual reach.
Consider your calendar and other upcoming business events. If you want to re-work your phone system’s automated attendant message and expect it to normally take two weeks, then make sure your upcoming two weeks won’t include a big product release or multiple onboardings for new hires.
Also be sure to keep your goal realistic with respect to its results.
Pick a goal that has substantial impact – like completing a survey of your Sales and Services departments to gauge their interactions with customers. Avoid picking a goal that tries to do too much – like completing a survey and developing new scripts for each team member based on their reactions to the survey.
Although those multiple tasks may be linked, the example of the survey and script development should be split into two different goals. Each one should have its own sprint because each will produce a different fundamental set of results, and when they’re combined, they would take more than a month to complete.
Be Open to New Information
In many ways, sprint planning tries to create a better end product for the customer. To that end, a business is encouraged to consider the changing requirements of its current sprint’s goals as new information arises.
What this would mean for an internal survey about customer interaction is that customer needs might change. It could also mean that unforeseen customer needs may not have been addressed.
For instance, a brief discussion with Sales before the survey was created could reveal important aspects of the sales process that drafts of the survey don’t talk about. This new information could lead to a redesign of the survey itself.
Iteration is important because it invites new information as a pathway to a better sprint. However, it’s important to stay focused and think continuously about the scope of your sprint’s results.
Sprint Planning is a Learning Experience
Overall, you will want to use your sprints as a learning experience. You won’t be able to get everything correct in your first sprint, but that’s no reason not to try your best.
We’ll cover two more examples of sprint planning in follow-up blogs this month. Stay tuned for a detailed look at the monthly goals of calling your own phone tree and surveying your departments about communication styles. In those breakdowns, we’ll consider what it looks like to create a specific goal and see a sprint’s process take shape.
In the meantime, you can check out our Summer Cleanup Sale to save $2-5 per user on new Dash Phone Plans. Click the banner below to learn more.
Posted on August 27, 2019 by Casey Houser
The defining question for all live receptionists is this: What do I say when transferring a call?
The question brings up ideas about phrasing, pacing, and connections to callers and fellow employees, all of which we’ve discussed at length in a previous blog post.
Today’s follow-up blog offers you some actual scripts to use in a variety of situations. Whether or not your phones are linked to our Dash Phone System, you can use these short scripts to address your customers and co-workers.
#1. Speak to the Person Who Will Answer the Transfer
As the caller’s initial point of contact, you have heard their initial request for information. You know why they’re calling. However, the person to whom you’ll transfer a call won’t know. This can be frustrating for your caller, so do them a favor and warm up the transfer by first speaking to your business contact.
- Situation: You want to let your colleague know that they’ll be transferred a call, and you want to let them know what the caller has requested.
- What you can say (to your colleague): “Hi, [colleague’s name]. I have [caller’s name] on the other line. They’re asking about our [product] and want to know about the [product feature]. Thanks. I’ll transfer them right now.”
#2. Explain to the Caller Why You’re Transferring Them
A common type of call in any business is a general, information-seeking call. You may, for instance, answer a call from a customer who’s looking for details about your product or service. Though you might not have the technical resources or knowledge necessary to respond, you know exactly who has those qualifications.
You can use this script in tandem with #1 in this list. If you speak to your colleague first, you can inform the caller that you’ve warmed up the call. Furthermore, if your colleague is unavailable, you can let the caller know to leave a voicemail after being transferred.
- Situation: The caller wants more information about your quarterly product sale. You need to transfer them to your Sales department lead.
- What you can say (to the caller): “Hi, [caller’s name]. The best person to answer your question is our Sales VP, [colleague’s name]. Their extension is [x123]. I already spoke to them, and they’re ready to receive your call.”
#3. Ask For the Caller’s Permission
Receptionists can let callers control their own destiny. When callers are asked permission to initiate a transfer, it gives them control over the situation and lets them define the pace of the call. You can easily ask for permission with any other script you use. Just remember to be sincere with the caller about their choice in the matter. This is a great way to clear up any confusion and make sure you and the caller are on the same page.
- Situation: You wish to ask the caller’s permission to initiate a call transfer.
- What you can say (to the caller): “Our Sales VP, [colleague name], is the best person to answer your question. They’re ready to receive your call. Can I transfer you now?”
Transferring a Call Needs Personal Connection
Personal connections hold the key to effective interactions with customers. The scripts shown here help you build quick, meaningful connections in the seconds between call pickup and initiating the transfer on your phone system.
As the receptionist, you’re the first contact a caller has in their journey through the company. You develop brief relationships with every caller by being personable through your etiquette. Transferring a call with an ask for permission and with extra explanation, like the recipient’s extension, builds trust from the moment the call begins.
Take these scripts and modify them to your own needs, always remembering to give the caller all the information they’ll need for smooth problem resolution. We hope they serve you well.