The telephone is one of the most important tools a horse business owner can have in his or her arsenal. It serves a variety of purposes:
Fielding calls from prospective clients
Keeping in touch with current clients
Communicating schedule changes
Directing people to web sites and other communication methods
Connecting you with help in an emergency
Even if you primarily use your cell phone, the barn needs a land line. Period. And, like most tools, the telephone doesn’t serve its purpose unless you put it to good use.
Design Your Office Around the Phone
It doesn’t even have to be an office. It might be a bench in the back of the tack room or a desk pushed into a corner of the feed room. But you need a centralized location in which to keep your telephone.
Along with the phone, you need other tools that help you connect with current and prospective customers.
First, make sure your calendar or date book is within easy reach so you can schedule appointments, lessons, training sessions, and other events at the point of contact. You should also keep a pad of paper and a pen right next to the phone, just in case your calendar isn’t available or you need to make other notes.
You might also want to post a whiteboard, chalkboard, or bulletin board above the phone so you can scribble messages to other employees or write announcements to clients. This can become a go-to area when people need to connect with you.
Never pick up your horse business telephone and say, “Hello.” You’re a business owner, and you need to act like it.
Try some variation of: “Thank you for calling Riding Instructor University. This is Laura, how can I help you?” It tells the caller the name of your business and the name of the person they’ve reached, and it expresses your willingness to be of service.
Create rules about who is allowed to answer your horse business telephone, and instruct each of those individuals on how to answer appropriately. Make sure employees know that, if they don’t have an answer to a question, they should take a message and allow you to handle it.
Set Up Voicemail
If you don’t have voicemail with your phone service, go analog and buy an answering machine. Just make sure that someone answers your horse business telephone, even when you aren’t there.
The message you leave can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, a riding academy might change their answering machine message on inclement days to advise students that lessons have been cancelled. You can also tell people that you will return their call promptly, but in the meantime they can visit your web site (make sure to give the URL).
Your ability to return calls that come in to your horse business establishes your credibility. Fail to return calls promptly, and your credibility plummets.
That said, it is not a good idea to return calls as soon as you hear messages. Instead, listen to all messages, write down the information, then return them only when you have time to devote to them. Never pick up the phone when you know you have ten minutes before your next class starts.
If you can harness the power of the telephone and use it to your advantage, you’ll experience better communication with both clients and employees.