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It’s the type of business issue that causes insidious damage, yet is so easily fixed when recognised.

For some 84 per cent of Australian customers, poor phone etiquette and inappropriate handling of telephone inquires means they would take their business elsewhere.

A survey of 1,000 Australians by the Australian Caller Index found that the damage of a mishandled phone call isn’t limited to the caller. The vast majority will instruct friends and family to avoid a business if their call was not handled well.

The index also includes surprising findings about the importance of phone inquiries in a digital age, and how Australians really react to overseas call centres. Despite the hype about digital and social media, more than 60 per cent of Australians still consider phone as their preferred way of contacting a business.

“For the majority of us, the phone is the first point of contact we have with a business, whether it’s a major bank or a local tradie,” David Atkinson, CEO of OfficeHQ, which jointly conducted the survey, said. “And on the phone, first impressions matter – a bad experience is a sure-fire way to lose customers for life.”

The survey also found that two-thirds of Australians will hang up and call a competitor if a customer representative can’t answer all their questions over the phone. Overseas call centres are Australians’ biggest gripe: 1 in 3 cite calls being redirected overseas as their biggest cause of irritation when contacting businesses. Almost half the people surveyed said they hang up if the person answering their call isn’t located in Australia.

“If you run a business, you need to make sure your phone calls are being answered with professionalism, competence, and a local attitude,” Atkinson said. “You want to show customers that you care enough about them to invest in top-notch service – otherwise, they’ll quickly find someone else who does.”