Receptionists, customer service reps and secretaries all over America agree, as they are pulling out what’s left of their hair, that most callers across the country have atrocious phone manners. Never mind the irate callers and disgruntled customers they have to deal with on a regular basis. They’re not talking about that. They’re talking about the folks who call up and assume that everyone knows who they are, even though these employees are handling several phone lines and typing or writing at the same time. They’re talking about the callers who open the conversation up with “Is he in?” as if they expect the receptionist to say: “He sure is, let me put you right through,” and then get offended when the receptionist says “May I ask who’s calling?”
“Part of my job,” says Lynette, a secretary in a law firm, “is to get a coherent message, and a callback number. My boss says ‘if you don’t have a number, they didn’t call’. You’d be amazed at how many people hang up without leaving their number, or say ‘He knows it,’ if you ask them for their number. Yes, when it comes to clients we have their numbers but it just takes less time in the course of the working day to get it in the conversation, than to stop what you’re doing to look it up.” Lynette also has to prepare correspondence and legal documents, pay filing fees and office bills while simultaneously taking phone messages, and she simply won’t get any work done unless you improve your atrocious phone manners and just say your first and last name, and leave your number.
Cynthia works in a busy real estate office. “You honestly wouldn’t believe how many clients with common names just give their first name and expect me to put their call through. No can do. My boss knows a lot of Toms, Johns and Marys. If I buzzed him on the intercom and said ‘It’s Mary,’ you better believe he’d read me the riot act! He even has a sister named Mary, but she at least has the common courtesy to say ‘It’s his sister, Mary ‘. “
Customer service reps understand that a lot of callers are already frustrated when they call because they have a problem with an order or service. Still, they beg you to try to comprehend that they are handling a lot of callers in any given hour of the workday and are courteously trying to direct you to the proper person who can help you. That’s what “How may I direct your call?” means. It doesn’t mean “tell me what happened right now in excruciating detail and I will tell you what you can do about it if I can get a word in edgewise while you vent.”
To solicitors, all employees have pretty much the same thing to say. Whether you are hoping to sell a new phone plan, offering a line of credit, or are the proud purveyor of competitive prices on toner cartridges — even if you have fantastic discounts — in the course of the busy workday, unfortunately, you are an unwelcome distraction. When you refuse to go away into the gentle day quietly and efficiently, it gets worse. You’re a nuisance and a pest. Employees uniformly say you will fare better when you send in your information by mail.
“Don’t fax us a damned thing unless it’s a lunch menu,” says Elizabeth, who answers phones, handles the mail and mans the fax machine in a busy employment office. She says she has no alternative but to cut off solicitors. “I dreaded these people when I first started working here,” she recalls, “They’re relentless, but, you know, you eventually learn to be more ruthless than they are if you plan on getting your work done.” Elizabeth continues: “One of the dead giveaways with these salespeople is they won’t leave a number, and say they’ll call back at a more convenient time. After that, they think they can get your boss’s name off you. Fat chance!”
Voice mail is another area where leaving a garbled message is not only going to frustrate the person you are calling, it’s not going to get you any nearer to the solution you are seeking by placing the phone call. You’ll be lucky if you even get called back. In many instances, while you may think you are leaving a direct voicemail message for the person you actually wish to speak to, that may not be so. Jenna reports that one of her duties is to retrieve voicemail messages and her instructions are to delete undecipherable messages when she can’t understand the person’s name or the person has said the telephone number so rapidly that she would have to listen to the message more than twice to get the number. “I can’t spend too much time on retrieving message,” she sighs. “but people still have the unmitigated chutzpah to call back and complain that their call wasn’t returned. You can’t understand a word they’re saying, you can’t tell them their message sounded like a call from Mickey Mouse —and — you have to soothe their ruffled feathers.”
This collective message is crystal clear: clean up your atrocious phone manners!
When you call a business, employees are going to love you and appreciate your sensational phone manners if you can:
- state your first and last name clearly, and offer to spell any uncommon or variant names;
- give the brief version of the reason for your call and have your account number on hand, if applicable;
- if the person you are trying to reach is otherwise engaged, leave your phone number as a matter of courtesy.
Can you handle it?