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Karen Swanay Jan 18, 2012

These Are Business Mistakes

As I move towards the end of my time as a grad student, I am spending time thinking about life as a business professional. I’ve always noticed customer service type issues, but now these issues have a new importance. I’d like to think that I will not make these mistakes as an employee, and certainly not as a business owner.

Most of us interact with business systems in our lives. Some systems are experienced from a client-side perspective, and others are as stakeholders. Some of us are “worker bees” with little power to change the ways things work, and others can make some changes. I recently had a protracted exchange with a health care system from a client-side perspective, and I was frustrated by several seemingly easy things to change. When I bumped into a faulty system cog, I mentioned it to the next person I talked to. None of the people I mentioned these things to had power to change anything and I knew that was going to be the case, but what I found stunning was that no one else mentioned these things and none of the representatives had any idea these problems were there.

Apparently the client-side experience was a complete mystery to the company. Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents since I’ve encountered them in other venues as well. So, here’s a list of things stakeholders, especially in the mental health field, should quality check. Bureaucratic rust should not make finding help more difficult for people who may already be over taxed with life circumstances. Plus it smacks of a lack of care or ability to handle basic ideas, which could kill a small business.

Check your policies. — If a diagnostic code must be supplied on paperwork so that someone can get services under a program, the code they need should not only be able to come from a provider in that program. This seems absurd but it’s easy to generate when several highly specialized treatment protocols come under the auspices of a single program. In this case, a program covering treatment for autism requires a diagnosis given only by developmental psychology — which is covered only under that program. This came to be by way of other childhood issues which are diagnosed by pediatricians, but presents a problem for autism because it isn’t something that can be seen in the way that other developmental issues can be. Add a big dose of “I don’t want to be responsible for this!” to the equation and people who need help have a big problem trying to get that help when the form won’t be signed by the pediatrician. This may not be applicable to all businesses, but all businesses have policies…make sure yours don’t create a circular frustration.

Don’t use voice mail! – I can’t think of a more common irritant in the world of business. Phones which roll immediately to voice mail are very off putting. Yes, I know. People are busy. I have grudgingly accepted that voice mail is here to stay but that doesn’t change the fact that it screams “I don’t care about your issue. Don’t bother me!” If you simply must use voice mail yourself or for employees, do make sure that it is functional. Quality check your messages by asking others to call in and tell you what they heard. Here are some common voice mail mistakes:

•Using a long and/or complicated message which imparts information the caller needs which can not be understood or used. Don’t mumble! If you are going to give other phone numbers to call, websites to visit for forms or contact, or any other information be certain that most callers can hear the message, understand it, and follow the directions. Make sure the recording quality is very high. Too often messages sound like they were recorded on a busy subway when the mailbox owner has a cold. Make sure you speak slowly and clearly, repeating important information such as phone numbers and web addresses.
•Using a multilayer system which gives invalid options. Don’t instruct the caller they may “Press 0 at anytime during the message to speak to a customer service representative” when in fact, pressing 0 at any time results in, “I’m sorry that is an invalid option.” Further…just don’t use these systems. No one likes them.
•Failing to check the messages of employees — just because you think they have set their phones up properly, doesn’t mean that is true.
If you must use one phone for business/personal use, default to using your business message! — I can’t believe this isn’t immediately obvious but apparently people don’t realize what they are doing…if you have a phone number which is available to the public through a website or referral, don’t allow that number to roll to a phone which is answered with a simple “Hello.” I was given a list of eleven service provider phone numbers in a name/number (Smith, Jane 234-456-9720) format from the administrator of a program. I had no idea who I was calling, and was at a disadvantage when the owner of the phone number answered with no identifier. I’m still baffled by this. Why would anyone do that? Of the 11 calls I made, 2 were the wrong number or were disconnected. The other 9 were all answered “Hello?” and were very obviously cell phones. The owners of the phones were answering their personal cell phones as though these were personal calls. They were not. Not only is this unprofessional, leaving their ability to function as providers seriously in question, but it served to generate a very uncomfortable exchange during which I had to ask them if they were providers of this service and left me only able to sound groveling or very aggressive. The first contact a client has with a company should not be this random for a host of reasons.
Have a dress code and be sure it is followed. — I’m not a prude and I’m not advocating some dress code from the 50′s, but there are times when I am aghast at the clothing worn by some employees I encounter. There isn’t one outfit which would always fit the client-population but there are some things which at the very least send an unfortunate business message:
•perfume overload — I am not a person who is bothered by perfumes and scents, so when I am so bothered by the perfume on a person it must be bad. Perfume is meant to be a subtle hint, not a sledge-hammer to the face. Apply your perfume, don’t marinate in it.
•animal print — a little of this goes a long way. One item, not a costume.
•too tight — if you need a large wear a large…not a medium.
•too little — midriff bearing clothing isn’t business wear for most businesses.
•ideological messages — political ads, religious dogma, charity pleas, or any other message which doesn’t relate to the business.
•tattoos — I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t have a tattoo policy, but I’ve seen many business professionals with tattoos which were visible and in conspicuous spots in the last five years. Much of what we conceptualize as appropriate or inappropriate is more a matter of socialization but in some settings, some tattoo art would be better covered than shown.

There are enough troubles in life and business without adding to the burden by either committing or condoning these types of business mistakes. If these mistakes aren’t just bad for business, they may prove very bad for the mental health of people who encounter them when they are stressed and are trying to get help. Again, “worker bees” may not be able to change the over-all policy of a company, but they can still mind their own performance and be sure they aren’t doing the same things.

Karen Swanay is a counselor-in-training who is passionate about many topics, some of which are: international adoption, autism, and military life.

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