14 Apr 10 Telephone Manners Every Professional Needs
One of the most prevalent and common mode of interaction is via a telephone or cellular phone system. This is preferred over letters as you get an instant response to your query or proposal. With a telephone call you are guaranteed that the recipient of the information has received the information like cases where you have to hope that information will indeed arrive on time. What is worrying is the level of laxity that people handle the phones with. Because telephone menners are not known, business is lost, costs are incurred by companies and wrong information is dismissed. Telephone abuse is a common feature in business where employees leave home with no other intention than to "touch base" with their networks at the company's expense. Having been a professional for over ten years, I have encountered various scenarios of phone usage. I have drawn a number of lessons and tips based on those experiences. In this article you will get a guideline in terms of including this means of communication is maximizing bringing value to you as an individual and to the business as a whole. When a call takes place, it is usually the caller that incurs the cost to the telephone provider. However on the other hand if your line is busy for the next 30 minutes on personal calls then you are absolutely losing business as well even though you received the call.
1. Plan your calls – There is nothing more time wasting than someone who calls and soon after the connection has been made; they express openly how they no longer know what they called for. If you have such short memory my best suggestion is take pen and paper and line up your thoughts on paper. That way you never miss the important things you are calling about. When you plan your calls always avoid placing or booking calls while you are busy eating. You are to avoid chewing or eating anything while you are on the phone. Your food will exist beyond your phone call. While multitasking is encouraged, desist from calling people or answering the phone with a mouthful. It is one very unprofessional way of doing business.
2. Picking calls and Passing Messages – The widely accepted maximum number of rings before a call is picked is 3. Beyond that customers get annoyed and business goes to the next person on the list. This expectation not just for the receptionist of telephone operator but also for everyone who uses the phone in the organization. You never know that the person on the other hand is in danger and has limited time to live or is under house arrest. It could just be a customer who is serious about their time. Timeous picking of calls communicates boldly that you are serious about how you treat other people. You respect their rights etc. In cases where the call is not meant for you then you have an awesome responsibility to relay the message in its original format (without incentives) to the one who was originally required to get the message. In that case always solicit for name, return number, nature of message (whether business or personal), the urgency of the message. Write all this down as you may forget in your busy day. A message like "One of your uncles called" shows lack of interest in the one who collected the message. It is better to keep quiet that to communicate half messages.
3. Get to the point fast – If you're looking for an answer, simply get to the point about the reason for your call. It does not matter how nice the voice of the person on the other side is. Simply make it known immediately after your call is received what you are after. On the side of the person receiving the call, please do not waste people's time by pretending to have answer for everything they way. Get the person with the answer to respond. There is nothing wrong in stating that you are actually not the right person to answer the question and immediately send the caller to the correct person. An effective average call must be no more than 3 minutes. You can communicate all you want within that time. Avoid spending time in jay talk, long greetings, sharing unnecessary talk and jokes etc. If the person on the other end wants to give you an A4 side list of things, suggest to them that they send email, fax or physical document. It is a lot better than recording everything on the phone. You will block one line continuously, you will be sentenced to mistakes as you record etc
4. Placing a caller on hold – Most people (like me) do not enjoy being put on hold no matter how nice the "music on hold" or "advert on hold" is. They just want to speak and get the answer and end the call. Before you decide to put a caller on hold please let them know you want to do so, why it is necessary to do so and most importantly allow them to decide whether they want to hold or call again. I get annoyed when someone makes all these decisions for me while I hold. It may be an instance of me not having enough credit on my phone or I am busy in a meeting that needs an urgent response etc. At least I would feel respected and honored if the person on the other side of the line gives me the choice. When you place people on hold do not take years to get back with an answer and communicate the way forward.
5. Use the right language and speak slowly – use the first few sentences to determine the language and pitch of your conversation. You can not speak at the same speed you would speak while you are facing the person or else you find yourself repeating over and over. I have noticed with cross continent calls that sometimes you have to speak and when you listen you hear a time delay sounding like an echo of yourself speaking. You then wait for the person to respond before you send more words. No matter how much of a fast talker you are, you need to consider the recipient's rate of grasping your message. After all, the goal of making that call is to send a message. If you use the wrong language and wrong speech of speech, you will lose the recipient entirely and in the end the message is either muffled with a lot of patches that are not clear or the message does not get there altogether.
6. Make business calls only – Desist from spending time on the phone discussing personal issues at the expense of your employer. In some instances employers explicitely ban personal calls advising employees to use their private cellular phones for such talk. I have also seen employers who take it a notch higher and ban even switching on of private cellular phones at work leaving people to be reachable during lunch time and after hours. I would not personally recommend that but results have shown a greater performance on such companies than where rules do not exist. My suggestion is to teach people to be responsible. Even though you are using your personal cellular phone, realize that you are paid for the time you are spending trouble shooting your personal issues. Your employer carries that cost.
7. Be Considerate of others – The moment someone on the other hand says "hello", realize one fact; that someone is paying for that call. Act responsibly and do the honorable thing. Do not drive your employer into debt Get the most from every minute – You should record, name, return number, email address and nature of query in the shortest possible time. The moment you answer your phone be ready with pen and paper. Avoid statements like "let me look for a pen". It shows a level of laxity and unpreparedness. When you call someone, say on their mobile, one of the questions you should be able to ask at the beginning is when the person is able to talk with you on not. The mere fact that the call was answered does not guarantee that the person is fully engaged to deal with your issue. They could be in the middle of some crucical exercise. Unplanned and unexpected calls are almost similar to unexpected visits. They leave the one visited with very little flexibility than to entertain the caller or visitor. If the person can not take your call now, kindly ask what time you can call again. Do unto others what you want them to do unto you. I have noticed that in life, people who are sensitive about their space usually jump onto other people's schedules unannounced. It is not fair.
8. Consider the time zones – If you are making an international call please be considerate. Just because it is day in Asia means it could be midnight in Africa etc. Even if you are in the same city, if you call someone around lunch time and shortly after normal close of business, you are least likely going to find the person. You may hit a voice mail or be told to call the following day. So why waste your resources. Call on time. There is nothing as annoying as getting a call while you are on your way out. What is worse is that the person on the other end wants to take their time to let you know what they really want. By the time you mention that you were on your way out that is the point when they want to talk sense. Time is of essence; reserve such conversations for a barbeque over a weekend. On a business day it is advisable to keep conversations targeted at business. After all you go to work to generate business traffic and improve the profitability of the business not to inconvenience the people you call on the phone.
9. Consider Language Differences – Use a language that both parties are comfortable in. With Globalization it means you interact with all cultures, races and nationalities. If you expect to do business with the French speaking nations, please do yourself a favor and study French. My experience in China in 2007 showed me how you can go for a whole day without making sense to anyone around you. The taxi driver needed you to show him / her a business card of where you were going. On the way there was no conversation. The same thing can happen on the phone. You could have eloquent in English and have no clue how to speak German. Enroll in short courses on linguistics so that you have basic knowledge of the languages.
10. Attend to Calls with positive attitude – Everyone has times in life when they have pressing personal issues. The last thing a caller wants from you is to be gifted with a boring, negative, gloomy voice on the other side which has an attitude that says "What do you want, please be quick, I am not actually in the mood to talk" . Realize that your personal issues having nothing to do with the customers and other stakeholders you are handling. You have to look past what you are facing and smile. A smile can be felt on the phone. It sounds silly but a smile can hide a thousand hurts. Showing the world that you have problems is near near bringing a solution to you. Be positive and upbeat. Who know; you problem could be solved in that one call you are receiving. In one sentence you can communicate a lot. Eg "Good morning, XYZ Motors, Its Rabison speaking, how may I help you?" as opposed to "Hello, good day". The latter will cause the person to ask many questions which are all answered in first sentence such as "Is that XYZ? Who am I speaking to? Can you help me?"
By Rabison Shumba