Forget eCRM How about Just Answering the #$@! Phone

telephone-chThe list of software and marketing solutions being offered to small businesses continues to diversify and expand. Many of the tools and services are increasingly sophisticated or bring sophistication that would otherwise be inaccessible to the SMB market.

But here’s a novel idea: somebody needs to deliver a solution to the following very analog problems:

  • SMBs often don’t answer the phone
  • When messages are left they often don’t return phone calls

I’m in the market for a number of SMB-related services right now (landscape architect, pest control/window replacement). In a couple of these cases these are potentially thousands of dollars in new business waiting to find a vendor. I’ve left messages and send emails to multiple businesses and in only one case did I get a return phone call. Zero email responses.

It’s totally astounding.

Someone who can offer a service that does a better job of acknowledging consumer inquiries on behalf of the SMB and then helping the businesses follow up in a timely way would be a dramatic improvement over what exists today in many instances: silence/non-response.

I’m sure there are such services already out there but it’s astonishing to me that so many SMBs are so bad at the basics.

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26 Responses to “Forget eCRM How about Just Answering the #$@! Phone”

  1. Steve Minton says at

    This is a problem that plagues me everyday. I build websites for fence guys, tree guys, etc and I structure their payments to me on a pay-per-call basis. I am blown away by the lack of effort that these guys put forth into answering their phones. Since my fees are based on the number of calls that can be attributed to new business, I can never get paid for a caller that abandons the call when they hear “leave your message after the beep” No message = no new chance for business.

    One of my guys (a landscaper) has not answered his phone in over a month! All of the calls are recorded, so I have a months worth of calls that are just people leaving messages on his voicemail. There must be 30 straight calls without any dialogue at all. I’ve pleaded with him to answer his phone, but he does not see why it could be important. He says he leaves his phone in his truck while he is “out working”

    If anyone knows of some magical solution, please let me know. These guys need help!

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes it’s kind of depressing.

  3. YS says at

    I’m a local service provider. From time to time I’ll call my local competitors just for fun. I get a live person less than half of the time. Real simple to set yourself apart from the competition. (bonus if you show up to a scheduled estimate appt). ((Double bonus if you show up on time)). 

    On the other hand, I will admit that I sometimes selectively don’t return emails or voice-mails if I happen to miss a call. About 50% of the calls/emails are for jobs that are either too small, too out of the way, or for DIY homeowners that only want me to come in and do X while they take care of Y and Z (and still wanting me to warranty the job as if I did the entire thing). 

    After I got a negative Google review from a homeowner who was frustrated that I politely declined to give him an estimate for a 30min project that was 50 miles away (my minimum job is $1000), I simply don’t return emails for requests like this anymore. 

    I see too many reviews by trigger-happy homeowners that will leave a completely unjustified negative review for a service-provider because their price was too high or they refused to waste an hour of their day driving to the other end of town to estimate a 30min project. One review I saw berated a roofing company because they had job minimums and another accusing a service provider of redlining because he didn’t provide a quote for a home that was outside of his service area. 

    Not saying this was the case with you, Greg (and I do think you have a valid point for which service providers are infamous for), but just wanted to represent “the other side” and show that we service-providers increasingly have to walk a fine line between accepting every single tire-kicker request for an estimate and knowing how to politely refuse service in the world of trigger-happy (or is it keyboard-happy) homeowners that can ruin your online reputation in one sitting. 

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    YS I appreciate your point of view and your frustration. There are a lot of unreasonable consumers out there. But in time (and on the review sites) the balance of reviews for good/courteous service providers should be positive, making the occasional negative review minor in its impact. 

    But there’s got to be a better way. I had an experience with a plumber around not showing up/returning my calls that I really wanted to flame him on Yelp. I did not. The guy was an incredible flake (over a period of several contacts). 

  5. Neal says at

    Greg – they don’t call you back because they know what business you’re in :).

    Perhaps you should call back as mark smith, you might get some call backs! 

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    They have no idea who I am 🙂 It’s shocking to me actually. I can’t imagine that the economy is so good that they don’t want some additional work.

  7. YS says at

    Agreed, Greg! 

    Regarding “a better way” – the closest thing I know of is something from Craftjack (an online leads generator for service providers). They are trying out a new pricing model where they will discount the cost of a lead IF an SMB uses their call tracking # AND returns a lead request within 30 minutes by calling back (

    As common sense as this sounds, this is an issue that plagues even paid lead generators where SMB won’t call a prospect even AFTER paying for a lead to the point where these guys are trying to discount lead pricing for timely call-backs. 

  8. Greg says at

    It’s amazing that some wont call the leads they’ve actually paid for.

  9. Shiri Yitzhaki says at

    You just nailed it. We’re investing hours in investigating what SMBs need to give better service, when a lot of them do not even realize that good service is required for success! No tool could educate them for that…

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    Also take a look at “Confessions Of A $100/Month SEO Client”

  11. Terry Wall says at

    Hey Greg, need a videographer for anything? I promise I’ll answer the phone–or call back promptly! For all the years I was in the same space as you, I have a new found sensitivity, now that I’M a SMB! What I find most amusing, though, is the barrage of calls I’M now getting from companies selling their SEO/SEM services, and they don’t get it when I tell them that I was in that arena for almost a dozen years!  SMH!


  12. Service Central says at

    Greg that link to Search Engine Land is a winner! I’m going to get our sales reps to start doing a similar survey. Would be fascinated to hear what comes out of it.

  13. Greg Sterling says at

    Everyone selling to SMBs should be doing so with both a clear understanding of what their needs are and their limitations. His situation is probably fairly representative of the predicament of many SMBs.

  14. Max says at

    Greg great article, and definitely one of the more frustrating things you can encounter when you’re trying to give someone your business.  We try to help SMBs by putting some call scheduling / contact center technology behind those incoming calls but it’s still ultimately up to them to pick up the phone.  I like the new blog look by the way!

  15. Greg says at


  16. Plumber: 95% of My Leads Come from Yelp says at

    […] had to have a plumber out before getting a new dishwasher installed (to change a valve). Unlike some of my other recent experiences with SMBs, the guy was prompt in responding to my email and came out this […]

  17. Daniel says at

    Greg, this is a very frustrating event when one of the sides does not fulfill his contractual obligation.
    When SMB becomes an advertiser he basically says to his marketing agency “Hey, i want to grow my business and advertise, however i prefer leads… please drive me quality calls. I am available to get those calls Monday to Thursday 8am to 6 pm. When I get them, i will pay you…”
    The other side of the equation (the marketers) will apply any type of tactics they can to fulfill that requirement. They will spend time, talent, money on buying media, will invest in technology development, will block and filter bogus calls as much as they can…and then..the advertiser decides that for what ever reason he can’t/ not willing to answer his phone.. now for me that is a contractual issue.. that should be treated before the engagement and such cases should be agreed beforehand. Generally speaking if the SMB knows that he will not be charged, he will make a very little effort to respond to such a call (bad user experience as well), but if he is charged.. then the answering rate flies up.

    The way we solve that is not by asking the SMB what he wants but either by telling and educating him of he needs in order to be successful. Well that takes time and money but pays off.
    We charge the SMB for the “Business Opportunity” which is the opportunity to be connected with a ready to hire user. This business opportunity can be delivered in many ways. The method of delivery doesn’t  really matter as it can be a phone call, push notification, SMS, mail whatever… it is up to the SMB to decide what to he can respond to at any given minute. We will try to post the opportunity in any way we can. Eventually it will be always accessible through his Online Portal.

    We also apply many useful Gamification and Incentive tactics where we motivate the SMB to increase his answering rate by just a bit. When he does that, we add extra virtual money to his account which he can spend on buying leads.
    The answering rate is also a part of the Business Quality Rank which defines who will get the lead ..(not just the highest payer)…

    The most interesting part is that those SMBs will gladly pay Google for clicks (might NOT be even real VISITSnot to speak about conversation ready customers, even not by tire kickers) and you hear never something like “Hey Google, please dont charge me for clicks as my website was down for maintenance…or i had a long page loading time …” or “that was a click by the same user!” or ..” this click resulted someone who just wasn’t serious enough…”

  18. Bill says at

    Greg – Just curious whether these providers offered the ability to schedule an appointment for a call back? 

    We encourage our customers whose services require an initial phone consultation to update their voicemail to say something to the effect of… “I’m sorry I can’t take your call – I’m with a customer right now. I block out time each day for callbacks. Please go to my website (at http://www….) to schedule a time and provide me with your contact information and I’d be happy to give you a call.”

    I realize that’s not as satisfying as having a human answer the phone, or getting a callback in 10 minutes, but seems much better than having no idea if/when you might get a call.

    What do you think?

  19. Greg says at

    Bill: that sort of thing would be fine. There was nothing like that. 

  20. Ed O'Keefe says at

    Greg et al ….. businesses that don’t answer their phones, deserve to have the potential business taken away and given to another business that is eager to serve customers.  Since most calls to SMB’s are from SmartPhones now, it’s even more frustrating for the consumer when a business doesn’t pick-up, as they have to now do another search on their little mobile phone to call an alternate business. And what about all the wasted ad spend when marketers have driven calls to the business and they don’t answer!  There is Patented technology that does have a proven solution to this problem for mobile app publishers.  The company Adaffix, has an SDK that easily installs into YP directory apps and apps like YELP and Travelocity, etc.  If say, Yelp, was to load this SDK into their App, it would run in the background of the caller’s phone.  The caller doesn’t even need to have the Yelp App open. When they make a regular call to a business (say Sushi Ebi in SanFrancisco) and Sushi Ebi doesn’t pick up, the App dips into Yelp’s API and instantly display three alternative sushi restaurants in the same neighbourhood on the callers phone.  The caller then simply clicks to call one of the alternate businesses that hopefully are more than eager to answer the phone and set a place at the their sushi bar for this new customer.  The interesting thing here, is that Yelp’s listings/content (or whatever App Publisher has the SDK installed in the APP) would be displayed on the unanswered call event, even if the caller found the number in Google, or a website, or a bus bench.  Full disclosure:  I consult for Adaffix …. but this technology is right for the market right now, is proven and solves part of the issue you posted initially.  Anyone that wants to know more can ping me.  For your interest greg, Adaffix has live stats in most countries of the categories of business that don’t answer the phone the most often.  In Germany in March, it was Taxi’s.  In the US in March it was Restaurants, closely followed by banks.   By our stats, and those from Telmetrics and Marchex, up to 4 in 10 calls to businesses go unanswered.  Quite a problem to dig in and solve for the poor consumers, the marketers, and quite an opportunity for businesses that answer their phones to grab new customers.

  21. Brian says at

    As someone who sold Yellow Pages advertising for years, I can tell you this is a huge problem. Before cell phones, may companies used to use answering services, but I think those have really gone by the wayside.

    I can’t tell you how many times a customer would tell me, “We don’t get any calls”, after I had called them 10 or 15 times and they never answer.

    This was 10 years ago, I can only imagine how much worse it is today.

  22. Greg says at

    Yes. It’s amazing that something so fundamental is often neglected. 

  23. Ed O'Keefe says at

    Happened again to me personally this morning. Took usual batch of shirts to the DryCleaner. Checking them in and getting my receipt. Phone is ringing and he’s not answering it. He mumbles “It’s always like this…..the phone always ringing when I’m with customers!”. I said, “that’s a good problem to have, it could have been a current customer or new customer for you! He said, “I’m taking care of you right now Mr. O’Keefe”. I was honored and irritated at the same time. I would have gladly allowed him to multi-task to take the call while checking in my clothes. So, looks like sometimes they are not answering their phones for reasons that they think are for the good of customer care ……even at the detriment of customer care and new customer acquisition.

  24. elephant auto insurance says at

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  25. joe logan says at

    hi,yelp took $3000. and I never got a lead. I contested with my bank and lost. I’m still paying off that credit card.

  26. joe logan says at

    hi, sorry I said yelp. I meant YODEL. VERY SORRY>>>

  27. Janey says at

    It’s hard to believe that if someone is in business especially service based businesses, that these basics are not in-built and ingrained into the culture of a business. It seems like if business owners don’t enforce it, it get’s lost in translation and the buck get’s past on. Not good for return business or referrals that’s for sure. 

    I have a physio and massage practice and greetings are an essential and integral part of my business culture. That includes, when a customer walks into my clinic, the answering machine message for outside of business hours through to the return phone call when contacting customers back.

    I have been using a CRM and scheduling software call Mystro to manage all my customers as well as keeping a complete history of all their bookings which has been amazing when knowing what customers i need to contact back and those who are prospective customers that i need to to pay extra attending to get them in for an appointment.

    My thoughts are, that if you want your customers to return and refer you onto their friends, then get a CRM and scheduling software to manage your business and customers and never forget the basics.

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