August 15, 2003
The telephone keeps us in touch with clients, customers, vendors and others.
The hints and tips here will help you be more productive, do a better job and, maybe, suffer a little less when all those calls start coming in at once.
Saving Phone Time
If you try to make 30 calls a day, fewer than eight are successful connections on the first try, according to AT&T.
George R. Walter, author of Phone Power: How to Make the Telephone Your Most Profitable Business Tool, suggests:
Tag, You?re It!
- Scheduling calls much like you would schedule in-person appointments.
- Never leave messages, such as ?Just tell him I called? or ?Have her call me back later.? Always leave a specific time when you?d like a call returned or when you?ll call back.
Here?s how you can end the ?I?m returning her call, returning my call, returning her call from yesterday? routine.
- Try returning phone calls about 10 minutes before noon and 10 minutes before 5 p.m. Most people are in their offices at those times.
- When people you call aren?t in, ask for the best time to reach them.
- Don?t just leave a message when someone isn?t available. See if someone else can help you.
- If you do leave a message, make it clear when you will be available. If you?re going to be away from your phone for the next few hours, make sure that?s included with the message.
- If you just need some information, leave a message that suggests what to do if you?re not in when they call back. Say something like, ?If I?m not in, tell Pat to leave the figures with Fran.? And of course, let Fran know someone may be calling.
Never put a person on hold until you?ve asked permission to do so. And wait for an answer.
People will hold longer if they know the name of the person they?re holding for. You might say, ?May I put you on hold, so I can ask Mary Smith in accounting to answer your question??
But beware of the irate phone caller. That person will stay on hold for a very long time ? getting angrier with each passing second.
Complaining callers deserve special treatment.
- Irate callers need to be handled promptly. If they aren?t, their anger will grow. And they?ll begin sharing their bad experiences with others.
- Tell angry callers your name. Once people know your name, they?ll get the feeling that someone is genuinely interested in helping them solve their problems. In fact, it?s a good idea to have all people within an organization give their names when they answer their phones. It can be as simple as, ?Maintenance Department, Joe speaking.?
- Don?t transfer angry callers just to get rid of them. If they have to be transferred to get their problems solved, tell callers the name and number of the person they?re being transferred to. That way, if a call gets lost, the caller will know how to get back in touch.
- When taking a message from an irate caller, make sure the right person gets the message as soon as possible. Don?t let the message get lost in a stack of other messages.
- Before calling back someone who has a complaint, make sure you and your voice are comfortable. You might want to make a couple of non-threatening calls first to relax your voice. It?s a good idea also to have a list of points you want to make during the call to keep the conversation focused on solutions.
Not all people call to complain. But even happy people will start complaining quickly if their calls aren?t handled well.
Your Three Minutes Are Up
- Make sure calls are answered right away. Business phones should be answered by the third or fourth ring. If people are ?too busy? to promptly pick up ringing phones, then suggest some changes.
- Answer the phone clearly. In too many cases, the person answering mangles the company name, slides over it, mumbles it or speaks so fast that the name is lost. Don?t assume people know where they?re calling. They may be returning a call and have only your phone number.
- When taking messages for someone who is not in, be careful about what you say. Comments such as ?She?s on coffee break? or ?He?s around here somewhere but I don?t know where? or, even worse, ?She never comes in this early? ? create a bad impression. Explain simply that ?She?s not available now.?
Here are some time-saving phone tips:
- When stuck on the phone with a well-meaning caller after the business conversation has come to an end, find a polite way to end the call. Say something like, ?I just noticed it?s 2:15 and I have a report due by 2:30? or ?Just one more question before we hang up.?
- When calling someone who will talk too much if allowed, begin the conversation with something like, ?Hi, I have three questions for you.?
- If someone asks to put you on hold, say ?Fine, as long as you take down my number. I?m expecting a call and I may have to hang up.? You?ll be less likely to get lost on hold that way.
- Consider using a headset or shoulder rest if you spend a great deal of time on the phone. Your hands will be free to take notes or handle papers you need to refer to.