One of the hardest parts of owning a small business is keeping up with communications technologies as your customers continually demand greater and faster access to you.

Sometimes that means trading in your old voice pager for a smart phone and sometimes that means trading in your office voicemail for call forwarding to your mobile phone. Call forwarding can mean dollars back in your pocket, but it’s not a perfect fit for everyone.

Callers Want to Reach a Person Right Away

Before you choose call forwarding, it’s important to understand why you’re getting it. Ideally, you want to increase your customer touch, but if you can’t pick up the phone every time it rings, call forwarding could backfire. For business owners who have few calls that they usually can answer, call forwarding may be an excellent option.

What telephone support experts are finding is that voicemail is widely despised by callers. But even if you have live operators, you can run into trouble if you don’t have enough. DialogTech did its own benchmarking analysis and discovered that long hold times are just as bad — 15 percent of callers will hang up after 40 seconds on hold, even if they’re guaranteed to get a person eventually.

These numbers point to the same thing — callers are impatient and want to reach you right away. Maybe they have limited time, maybe they have an emergency, but the end result is the same: you’re hemorrhaging leads elsewhere. Call forwarding can be a great way to slow the bleed, especially if used in conjunction with an answering service.

If you’re looking to try call forwarding by itself, though, try these things to maximize your service dollar:

Leave an alternative number. Those 50 to 75 percent of people who are abandoning your voicemail box are probably listening to some percentage of your message. Lead by giving an alternative number to call when you’re unavailable so you can recapture those people willing to take another step. Sometimes callers simply want a person, even if they have to jump through hoops to get them.

Rotate on-call employees. Being on-call all the time can be incredibly stressful, so make sure to rotate through your responsible employees. Taking turns being on-call means you’ll get a night to yourself without having to worry about having to answer the phone and possibly go off on a late night service call. The fresher you are, the less burn-out you’ll feel and the better you’ll be at handling customer requests.

Return messages promptly. If you’re still a one man operation, don’t let voicemail linger. Those customers who bothered to leave them are valuable leads, and obviously highly motivated ones. The longer you wait to return their calls, the more they’ll wonder if you’re ever going to — and they’ll start to think about calling someone else.

Timing is everything in business, but sometimes you just have to make the leap and see if a new technology or service is a good fit. Even if you just want to try out an answering service or call forwarding, shop several answering service companies before choosing the one you’ll use. That way, if you decide you like the service they’re offering and you want to expand further, they’ll still be the right choice.