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The message you are sending with your access systems
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Well over twenty years ago, companies started installing voice-controlled access to their telephone systems and figuratively throwing the telephone operators out the windows. This was supposed to be a smart way to do business. It was one of the first noticeable ways automation took over in our everyday lives.

Often being in a supplier or vendor role when I call mills or suppliers to the industry, I have grown to accept that you wish to treat us as second-class citizens and have us supply for free what you used to do as a courtesy for the general public (find the person or department with which we wish to speak). Yet, even as a customer, I see this happen and so do you (try calling any kind of help desk at any company involved with your computer in any way).

However, in our own industry, I caution you about treating your customers this way. They have choices and if they find it onerous to reach you, they will find someone who will treat them with respect. Turned around, it is an opportunity to grab your competitions' customers if you have a decent way for them to be treated on the phone.

What I do with my prospects and customers is make sure they all have my cell phone number. In fact, here it is: 404-822-3412. However, during business hours it is better if you call me on the office land line, 678-206-6010, to avoid dropped calls.

If you are a senior person, give your phone systems a call from the outside and see what message you are sending to the general public and especially to your customers. You very likely will have some urgent reorganization of systems in your near future activities.

I have written about this before. A friend of mine who was running a large paper company did not eliminate receptionists/switchboard operators when it became a fad. I asked him why. He said, "You have gotten to be kidding me...the people in the back end of our mills waste more money before lunch each and every day than a receptionist costs in a year." And he ran one of the tightest ships I have ever seen.

Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.

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