Unit 3. Telephone Reception

Telephone skills

Because the phone is sometimes the only method of communicating between the company and the client or customer, it is an essential element to how the company is represented. If you are in the position of answering the phone and then transferring calls to other people within your company, you may be the first person a caller talks to every time he/she calls, and therefore you are the initial impression that the caller gets of the entire company. Keep in mind that you are representing your company, your boss, your department and yourself whenever you are speaking to another person on your company phone line.

Some ways to always make sure you make these representations in a professional way:

Answer the phone

Be courteous, helpful, service-oriented and professional at all times. Smile as you speak. As you answer the phone, create the impression that everything in the office is calm, professional, and under complete control. Acting "frazzled and hurried" will not help your caller to speak more quickly or take less of your time - it will only send the message that the caller is an unwelcome interruption, and that you are not happy about handling his/her call. Help your caller to feel welcome; give the impression that you are glad they called, that you can't wait to help them, and that they are the only person that has called you that day.

Press the "hold" button: Never let a caller hear you in another discussion. Ask the caller if they would be okay with holding, and then wait for a response. "Would you mind if I place you on hold while I check his/her availability?" is a nice, polite way to ask a caller about being placed on hold. It allows them to give you permission, and also communicates to them what you will be doing to help them.

Check back: Never leave a caller holding without checking back with them. Ask, "Would you like to continue holding, or would you like to leave your number and a message for them? This allows the caller options.

Screen calls: Ask who's calling - there are several ways to do this, each and every time, without appearing rude. One example is: "I'll check his/her availability -- may I please say who is calling?"

Give only necessary information to the caller : "She's on another line," "She's out of her office," "She's in the restroom," "She's standing in her office talking to someone," etc. are all TOO MUCH information. The caller simply needs to know, "She's unavailable to take a phone call right now."

Give transfer/contact information before transferring a call: If you're about to transfer a caller to a specific person, before transferring them say, ''I'm going to transfer you to Bob, but in case he's unavailable, let me give you his direct number so that you may reach him more easily."

Be service-oriented: The caller has made the specific effort to reach your company, your office, your boss, etc. If you don't know the answer or can't help the caller, try to figure out who might. If you're unsure, take the caller's name and number and say, "Rather than transferring you to one more person, let me take your name and number and find the appropriate person to help you." and then do so, and refer the call as quickly as possible. If it is within your authority, you may even want to call the person back the next day and see if they received the assistance they needed.

Use good manners: When speaking on the phone, remember to say, "Please" and "Thank you." This shows professionalism and proper business etiquette, and makes that positive impression on the caller.

Never eat, drink, or chew gum while you are talking on the phone. Enough said. Just don't.

When placing calls, introduce yourself. Just like you don't want to have to say, "May I ask who's calling?" neither does the person on the phone wherever you're calling. Always say, "Hi, this is Mary Smith (insert your name here), may I speak with Bob please?" This saves time and frustration for both parties.

Be professional: When hanging up, press the "release" key or the switch-hook button, to avoid the "slamming" noise in your caller's earpiece. Answer all questions courteously, and take the time to communicate thoroughly, not rushing through calls or conversations as if you're in a hurry to hang up. Thank callers for calling, and make them feel that you're glad they called.

Pay attention: Learning what types of calls, which callers, etc. your boss wants and does not want will take some practice. The best way to learn is to pay attention. You'll discover which calls he/she wants to be interrupted for, and for which ones never to interrupt.

Check voicemail regularly: Nothing can frustrate a caller as easily as leaving a message which doesn't get returned. If you have voice mail, use it only when necessary - after all, your job is to answer the phone. When you're using voicemail, remember to check for messages regularly - always upon return to your desk. And return calls immediately, even if to say, "I received your message and I am researching an answer to your question."

Be prepared for frequent/common questions:

Post the company's address, contact numbers, website, etc. near your phone so that you can respond to callers who are requesting that information. It never sounds good for you to have to look up this basic information for a caller.

Keep a list of callers and phone numbers: If your boss receives a call, and you take the message, start keeping a list or a database of those contact numbers. If your boss asks you to place a call, and provides you with a phone number, don't trash the number after placing the call. Add it to your database. Over time you'll have created an essential list with all the frequently used contact numbers that your boss and you will need.

Taking Messages

Many companies do not have a central switchboard with an operator or a computerized voice mail system. In this case, the administrative assistant will be asked to answer incoming calls and place outgoing calls. It’s useful for the assistant to keep an accurate written record of both, particularly incoming calls when the employer is not in the office. You should record the caller’s name, telephone number, purpose of call, and any message.

When a caller has a message to leave for your employer or another employee, take the message verbatim. Write it exactly as stated, taking time and being patient with the caller. If you don’t understand what the caller is saying, ask to have it repeated. The message may be very important to your employer, and a single word omitted or out of place could make a significant difference in the meaning. If you are unfamiliar with the caller’s name, ask for the spelling. Make sure you note whom the message is for.

All office supply stores have telephone message slips to make this record keeping easy (The figure below shows a typical message slip). Some message slips come in booklets with carbon copies. The original can be placed on the employer’s desk, while a copy is maintained in the booklet, perhaps for later use or reference when the original might have been destroyed.

A major advantage of using printed telephone message slips rather than blank scraps of paper is that you are more likely to take a complete message by filling in the printed form. A telephone message slip has lines for the name of the person being called, the date and time of the incoming call, the name of the person calling, the name of that person’s company or organization, if given, the caller’s telephone number, and the message, if any. The last line of the slip is for your initials as the taker of the message. By placing your initials at the end, you will be advising yourself as well as your employer that the information is complete and accurate.

FIGURE 1. A telephone message slip.