This post is part one in a two-part series.

Even in our ultra-connected, online oriented world, your small business telephone practices can make or break your success.

Many people still prefer to talk on the phone over any other means of communications, and the way you and your staff answer the phone can play into your businesses’ overall level of success. Potential customers expect that they’ll be able to pick up the phone and reach someone at on the other end of the line who will be friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. But unfortunately, a lot of small businesses lose customers before they even get them due to telephone-related mistakes.

Never underestimate the value of great telephone customer service. Here are nine mistakes to avoid with the phone so you can lay a strong foundation with telephone customer service and go a long way toward customer retention, new business, a great reputation, professional demeanor and service with a smile.

  1. Having the owner answer the phone.This is the biggest mistake that small business owners make with their incoming phone calls. It’s disconcerting for callers to speak directly with the owner of the business when they call. When they ask to speak to the owner and you respond “that’s me” it paints the wrong picture of your business. They need a “buffer” of a receptionist or other staff so they are reassured that you’re more than a one man operation. If you don’t have the budget or the space to hire on a full time receptionist, consider an answering service. An answering service will put space between you as the owner and the callers, and also help screen out unimportant calls so you can focus on the activities that truly grow your business.
  1. Having too much background noise.
    A dog barking, a side conversation between employees or cell phone static can set the wrong impression for your small business. Your incoming calls should be answered in a quiet environment. Although it’s sometimes necessary to pick up calls on your cell phone in a less than ideal place, having a receptionist or answering service as the first “line of defense” for your incoming calls is an excellent way to reduce your background noise.
  1. Relying on voicemail after hours.You can’t be open 24/7 – but your phone line should be. Small businesses that work with emergency situations (like plumbers or repair man) need to be available after hours – and it’s a good practice for any business that wants to give their customers the best in customer service. Working with an answering service will give your after-hours callers the personal touch and attention they seek. While you may not be able to sit by the phone after 5 pm, a professional answering service can do just this.
  1. Using a simple “hello.”Businesses need to give callers confirmation that they’ve reached the right number as soon as possible. While a friendly hello works well for a personal phone, it doesn’t cut it on a small business line. “Hi, you’ve reached Shasta Home Repairs, how can I help you?” sets the right impression from the start, with a professional yet friendly, general yet pointed approach.

Read the rest of these nine mistakes in part two of this two-part series.