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This is driving me and a lot of other customers batty.
August 10, 2011 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Asking on behalf of someone who may not be interested in your anwers: please tell me about basic business telephone options.

My vet is an older and old-school sort of guy who seems to see his mission as being to provide good pet (and farm animal) care at very reasonable prices. Perhaps out of a desire to keep costs down, he has only one phone line. His low prices and competent, conservative care make him very popular in this rather economically depressed area. This in turn creates a problem: his phone is ALWAYS busy. There's no website, no email address, and no voicemail so they can call you back later; just a persistent busy signal for hours on end.I typically have to press redial dozens of times before I can get through. Sometimes I give up and try another day.

I've complained to the receptionists about the situation and been politely rebuffed with a shrug and a "I'm sorry, we're just very busy right now. You have to keep trying." I've overheard other customers' complaints treated the same way on multiple occasions. Since the vet doesn't even acknowledge a problem here, this may be unfixable. Nevertheless, I am curious. How is it that virtually every other business I call is able to pick up the phone very reliably? What basic technology is my vet lacking? Is that technology expensive?
posted by jon1270 to Technology (13 answers total)
 
Perhaps out of a desire to keep costs down, he has only one phone line.

This is it right here. Most businesses have multiple lines - even though everyone calls the same number, it rings on the next available line, and the receptionist will put each person on hold in a rotating fashion.
posted by muddgirl at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2011


Of course the bottleneck might not be the phone lines. If they were incapable of handling the calls (either answering, or the work that they generated), then changing the number of phone lines may not be what he wants.
posted by grb_au at 8:34 AM on August 10, 2011


What you see as a bug, the Vet probably sees as a feature. One phone line very naturally limits the amount of incoming "stuff" he has to deal with.
posted by COD at 8:35 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


What basic technology is my vet lacking?

Multiple incoming lines. Which, as one might expect, cost more. Like, a lot more. Commercial telephony prices are massively higher than residential rates, with the former essentially acting as a subsidy for the latter. I don't know whether or not it's actually an order of magnitude higher, but it can certainly be a multiple. A lot of companies don't even post business rates, it's that bad.

You then need a switchboard capable of handling this kind of thing, but that's a one-time expense.
posted by valkyryn at 8:36 AM on August 10, 2011


The general term you're looking for is PBX. Traditionally, getting your foot in the door at that level has not been cheap (though incrementally expanding upon it is).

I don't have any specific recommendations, but VOIP + PBX is a hot ticket right now, as it lowers that initial cost dramatically. YMMV, but check with your local internet provider, they may offer it.
posted by mkultra at 8:38 AM on August 10, 2011


What you see as a bug, the Vet probably sees as a feature. One phone line very naturally limits the amount of incoming "stuff" he has to deal with.

But that doesn't make economic sense. It he wants to limit his customers, the more efficient way to do it would be to raise his prices, which would more than make up for the money he'd have to spend on multiple lines.
posted by John Cohen at 8:38 AM on August 10, 2011


An alternative to traditional multi-line PBXes is to set up a virtual PBX. This fixes the problem of the line ever being busy by directing additional callers to voicemail boxes, but otherwise rings the real phone if nobody's already using it.
posted by odinsdream at 8:38 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


(longer version of COD's answer) Could it actually be that this problem for the customers serves as a useful bottleneck for the vet, in that it prevents too much work from coming in at once? I would think that if his prices are low and the quality of his services are high, there may actually be more demand for him than he has capacity for and the bottleneck puts the brakes on work piling up.

If this is the case, the phone logjam could be intentional or maybe sort of accidental, a "when I get around to it" issue; but it would be a business problem or a process problem for him that really needs to be solved, rather than a technology problem.

As a practical solution for you personally, how about sending a postal letter requesting a phone call? (Of course, if there's some underlying problem in coordinating things and everyone in his customer base starts doing that, it'll just become another bottleneck... but if you're the only one doing it, maybe it'll work.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2011


most businesses get a block of numbers and the calls roll. as a mall photographer, we were expected to pick up the phone on the third ring. there were four lines. often there was only one person working. answering the phones ruined sessions and our in person customer service. sometimes during our busy period i'd flat take two of the phones off the hook so i could at least only have one on the phone and one on hold at any given time. i would have killed for a single line.

sounds like he has all the business he wants and figures that if it bugs people enough they can seek out one of the more expensive, less caring vets.
posted by nadawi at 8:40 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


But that’s still no reason to have a busy signal. Voicemail through the phone company, which will take messages even while the line is in use, would be better than having customers get a busy signal. I can’t imagine it costing that much. $2.00 extra per month on the bill?
posted by thebazilist at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2011


What you see as a bug, the Vet probably sees as a feature.

Could it actually be that this problem for the customers serves as a useful bottleneck for the vet, in that it prevents too much work from coming in at once?

sounds like he has all the business he wants...


Yes, this is a plausible explanation. He's swamped with customers and hasn't had much luck hiring another vet to help him out -- possibly because he can't pay them enough. I guess the idea that he might be able to make some small technological change and save a lot of his customers' time, without upsetting his whole business ecosystem, might be a fantasy. It just seems like a terribly wasteful way to control his business. I'd gladly pay a little more to be able to make appointments easily.
posted by jon1270 at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2011


As a practical solution for you personally, how about sending a postal letter requesting a phone call?

For the price of a postcard, I may just try this. :)
posted by jon1270 at 9:02 AM on August 10, 2011


But that doesn't make economic sense.

That is, it doesn't comport with your sense of good economics, but it may make good social sense. Maybe the guy just wants to provide decent animal care at a decent price for decent people (who are willing to call back) rather than raising his prices so that only the more well-off can afford him. Looking at reality, that may create another problem in that his entire customer base becomes comprised of rich assholes.
posted by rhizome at 10:07 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


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