In my training courses dealing with the effective management of telephone and customer services I am often asked, “What’s the best way to answer calls to the company?”
The answer, which I want to share with you today, is based on a fundamental consideration: the phone is a primary tool of customer contact, the way the call starts will determine the mood of your interlocutor and the way the conversation continues. Rather than search for a textbook formula, we need an effective, clear and extremely polite answer.
So, what instructions should we give our receptionists? How must they answer when taking a call?
Here are my tips: let’s start by considering external calls.
The phone call, like any encounter between people, starts with a GREETING that I suggest must be made bearing in mind three simple rules:
POLITENESS: 85% of our message is transmitted by our voice; if we want to show we care about a relationship and are pleased to have customers calling us, our tone will be sunny and smiling. Even the speed with which we respond determines a positive mood in our interlocutor: the phone should not ring more than three times if we want the caller to feel they are getting a quick response from an efficient and attentive company
CLARITY: articulate the words properly and loudly enough to ensure that the caller can understand what we are saying and feel reassured – “I called the right company, I didn’t ring the wrong number“
UNIFORMITY: if there are a number of people who take calls they should all use the same formula to convey professionalism and reinforce the impression that they work as a team
EFFECTIVENESS: guide the dialogue from the beginning using the 3-STEP FORMULA
1. GREETING: this must be comprehensible, always and to everyone (even if you start talking before you the phone is in front of your mouth!); before lunchtime, we say GOOD MORNING, and on return from lunch (or after 2 pm), we use GOOD AFTERNOON
2. COMPANY NAME: this must be emphasized; we are promoting the company and reassuring the caller that they have the right number. Remember that when you answer the phone you are presenting the company’s business card.
3. YOUR NAME: by first giving our own name, we automatically stimulate callers to tell us their name, thus providing rhythm and effectiveness to the conversation.
Good morning <company name> this is <name / surname> speaking
Some companies choose to use the complete formula by adding an explicit question, “How can I help you?”; in this way the caller is actively invited to formulate a request meaning the call will be passed through to the desired contact more quickly.
There are still many companies whose handling of the switchboard is largely improvised and the results are disastrous: incomplete information, increased time for handling the contact, no control on dialogue. This is a typical example of inefficient management that I came across recently:
- Company: Pronto (“Pronto”- literally ‘Ready’ – is an outdated Italian term of response that goes back to the early days of the telephone when all calls went through a telephone exchange operator who would ask “Are you ready?” – nowadays this makes no sense).
- Me: Is this Company X?
- Company: Yes
- Me: Is that Francesca?
- Company: No, this is Paola
- Me: Hello Paola, this is Alice Alessandri. Can you pass me Francesca, please?
- Silence …
I was then put through to my contact. If I had not said who I was I would not have been asked, neither did the woman answering ask what I needed, so she could refer this to her colleague before I was put through … she failed completely to guide the conversation but left everything up to me causing a significant loss of time.
What should we say when answering calls that come through the switchboard? We can use the normal rules of interpersonal relations: the first thing I do if a customer/supplier comes to the door of my office is to greet them, so over the phone I will do the same thing, I greet the caller and clarify that the customer is talking to the right person
Good morning, this is <name/surname>
It takes effort to change your habits. I suggest you place a sticky note with the new response at the front of your desk. I’m sure that in 2/3 days at most, all staff will be using the correct formula and phone calls will pick up pace and effectiveness.
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