FTSE 100 bosses get poor reception

Mystery caller test shows only one in four FTSE companies rated as ‘excellent’ on the phone and only half know their boss’s name 

23 September 2009: New mystery caller research announced today reveals that only one in four companies excel at making a good first impression with callers.   The FTSE First Impression Index, commissioned by outsourced reception provider Moneypenny, has revealed a new look FTSE listing where only the friendliest and most helpful companies top the charts and share price is meaningless. 

The independent survey, carried out in August and September, assessed the country’s most recognised companies against strict criteria to test telephone etiquette and build ‘First Impressions’ scores. One thousand calls were made to the 100 companies over a four week period by trained mystery callers who rated companies on speed, friendliness, clarity and knowledge.  Key findings were:

• First Impression Winners – The top five scorers topping the new ‘index’ were (in order) Experian, Friends Provident Group, Invensys, BHP Billiton, and Associated British Foods

• Bottom of the pile – Bringing up the rear was Next, followed by Anglo American, Thomas Reuters, Scottish & Southern Energy and Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust

• Quick but unfriendly – 74% of receptionists at FTSE 100 listed companies are answering calls within five seconds but only in 44% of calls were staff cited as ‘very friendly’

• Retailers forget their manners – Despite their customer service ethic, the Retail sector gave one of the worst first impressions of all 

• Dial ‘U’ for Unhelpful – Only 56% of receptionists knew the CEO’s name and only 8% were able to answer to simple enquiries directly

“Our experiment shows that share price means nothing when you have a bad telephone manner,” said Rachel Clacher, co-founder of Moneypenny.  “The bulk of our finest companies are distinctly average when it comes to making a first impression in those vital first few seconds to mystery callers.  They might be quick and there might be a person, not a machine, at the end of the line but they aren’t oozing friendliness and often don’t have the most basic information.”

"Perhaps the biggest surprise in the survey is that retailers don't seem to put much effort into how they deal with phone enquiries. Of course the great majority of their customers are dealt with in store rather than by phone, but the phone impressions may be worryingly indicative of their attitude to communication, which is a crucial aspect of brand" said Simon Middleton, the UK’s best known independent brand advisor and author of the book ‘How to build a brand in 30 days’.

Middleton continues, "Overall I think that poor scores in this survey have to be laid squarely at those responsible for training. All staff in any organisation should have core knowledge of their company, from their bosses name to info on complaints procedures. A receptionist, even for a company which doesn't get that many phone enquiries, is one of the front line brand representatives for the company."

Encouragingly more than three quarters (89%) of calls were answered by a human being, rather than a pre-recorded or automated system, while in 97% of calls the receptionist identified the company immediately, although only identified him or herself on 15% of occasions.

When comparing different sectors on their ‘First Impressions’ score, Financial Services came out top followed by Pharmaceuticals and Telecoms.  Propping up the list were Oil companies, Retailers and Tobacco companies who all scored badly.

Clacher added: “Banks and financial institutions seemed to have turned on the charm and despite the flak they are getting generally in the media, they give callers a feeling that they care.  Retailers on the other hand were poor, and their customer service ethic definitely doesn’t translate from the cash till to the switchboard.”

"Too often I think receptionists are taken for granted when they should instead be superbly trained, kept informed, motivated and incentivized to provide great service. The winners in this survey should congratulate the receptionists and those who train them. Those who didn't fare so well should not blame the receptionists, but look closely at their company culture, training and their brand meaning", Middleton concluded.

Clacher concludes, “All too often, if a CEO called their own switchboards they would be shocked.  With our index we want to send the message that getting your first impression right on the phone plays an important part in what you sell and the money you make.  By highlighting the best and the worst amongst British household names we want to start the debate on what businesses can do to improve.”

For a copy of the full FTSE First Impression Index, or to benchmark your own business’ first impression against the UK’s leading companies please visit www.outsourcedreception.com

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