Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22275 – 784:
Here’s the haps:
I am old-fashioned about a lot of things. We live in a society today of rudeness and telephones are one of the worst places for lacking manners. And it isn’t just that people have no sense of decency or privacy and will discuss every little detail of their personal, sometimes very personal, life anywhere they are. Of course, there’s the just plain vulgar person, and, more and more, there is the self-centered narcissist who cares about nobody’s feelings except their own. Just looking at the general decline of nice manners of people raises the question, “Why is it so hot and what is this handbasket I’m riding in?” And. you know, by nice manners I am just talking about what used to be called common courtesy. I mean, if I were invited to dine with her majesty or even a special dinner at the White House with
Creepy Joe Presiden Biden, I wouldn’t know which fork to eat what with and I most likely would pick up my soup bowl and slurp its contents without thinking twice. Well, maybe not. I read an article one time that if you are ever invited to dine with her majesty the simplest rule is to just observe what she does and try to follow suit. You should be prepared to be finished whenever she is, no matter how much you have left on your plate. If they are like other functions I have been to I’m sure the food will be cold and icky and you are there more for the presence of the person being honored than actually eating anything. You should always have enough money on you so you can stop for a hamburger after the event. Do they ever serve good ol’ southern fried chicken at those functions? Does her majesty, in private, of course, roll up her sleeves and grab a juicy, deep-fried chicken leg, dripping down to her elbows and face smeared with finger-lickin’ goodness? I mean, rumor has it that she bathes with a rubber duck so she can’t be all business all the time.
But I digress, as I am oft-times wont to do.
I’ll save that little iceberg for another time because I want to focus on one little portion today, appropriately using the telephone to conduct business.
When I was in high school, I don’t remember if it was Junior or Senior year, 1976 or 1977, we were required to take a business class. We were taught how to address business letters, how to type on a typewriter, what the proper margins were to be set at, that you had up to five characters left when the right-margin bell rang so you’d know when you had to hyphenate a word, ten-key by touch which was basically like data entry of a string of numbers using a machine to calculate everything. These skills are all still handy today although our machines are usually programmed with all the settings we need and don’t really have to think about. One portion of the class was dedicated to telephone etiquette.
When receiving a call to your business you never let the phone go beyond three rings without someone answering it. Of course, in those days we only had what is now commonly referred to as a landline and everything was set and standardized by the telephone company. As a general rule, the ring was two seconds followed by a four-second pause although this could vary a bit by locale. So, the standard was to answer the phone in under twenty seconds. When answering the phone you are to use a clear, controlled voice stating the business name, the department, and then your name. “Helpful Hurricane Herb’s Handy Grammar Helpline company, You gotta talk good English, Herb speaking.” Or like in the Old-Time Radio Show, Duffy’s Tavern, “Hello, Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speakin’. Duffy ain’t here—oh, hello, Duffy.” You don’t talk a hundred miles an hour and when the caller asks you to repeat yourself you don’t huff into the phone like someone has just given you a major insult. Speak clearly and enunciate your words properly. And you smile when you are talking because people can hear your smile through the phone. If, for some reason, you have to put someone on hold, “I’m sorry sir/madam but may I place you on a brief hold while I find out for you? It will be about a minute.” Except, unless it was something that required longer than a minute to answer. Then you inform the caller, telling them how long they will be on hold and what their other options are, e.g., I can call you back, I can find the answer and note your file and you can call back in and someone else can see it, things like that. Several of my readers, people I know in person, either work or have worked phones and know the right way to do it. I was a coworker with one of them. Working in a call-center is not for everyone but there are still right ways and wrong ways of treating people and doing business.
Now, when you make an outbound call to me, I will show you how to do it. First I will show you how not to do it. We will assume for a moment that your number does not come up as “SCAM LIKELY” which means I likely won’t answer your call at all. I did work for an outbound call center where their number came up like that and it was very hard. I couldn’t stand it. I worked for a contractor who worked for a contractor for a big-name insurance company on an automated dialer system. It was really annoying.
So, here’s the right way to do this outbound calling thing, whether you are a small business or a major corporation. I can’t give advice on how to do cold-calling for sales or anything because I was never any good at it. These instructions are for when you are calling someone on a legitimate business call.
When the person on the other end says, “Hello?” You should
- Identify yourself
- Identify your company
- State who you are trying to reach
- And say the purpose of the call
Hi, this is Herb from Handy Herb’s Grammar Hotline, I’m trying to reach Herb Superb. I’m returning his call.
See, that wasn’t hard at all. And you get off on the right foot with most people most of the time. If I say hello and you say, “I’m calling Mr. Herb Thiel, is he available?” I’m immediately suspicious. Who are you and why are you calling me? The first I think is that you are a bill collector or a scammer, not that there’s always much difference. “May I ask who’s calling, please?” If you are a legit caller I should not ever have to ask you this. “This is Tammy. Are you Herbert?” “Tammy? I don’t know any Tammy? What is this about?” “It’s about a personal business matter, are you Herbert?” So now I know you are a bill collector. I don’t want to talk to you. “What company are you with, Tammy?” “This is a personal business matter and I can only speak to Herbert. Are you Herbert?” “Young lady (I get to use this annoying and condescending phrase now since I hit the big six-oh and will be in the Sixty-Plus club in a few days.), telling me the name of your company is not divulging any secrets.” Most of the time this is the end of the call. Some hearty souls have ventured to give me what I ask for and then I do feel obligated to talk to them after lecturing them about their uncouth telephone behavior.
Sometimes medical places do this because there is such a fear of breaking any sort of privacy regulations but even so, you don’t have to be snippy or rude. The best ones so far, and maybe this is just my experience, are the ones who call from the VA Health clinic. “Hello. This is Mary Cho. I’m calling from the VA Health Clinic. Is Herbert available, please?” Beautiful. See how different that is? “This is Herbert.” “Hi, I’m your doctor’s nurse from the VA Health clinic, could you please verify your last four and date of birth for me?” “Certainly. It’s this and that.” “Thank you. I’m calling to remind you of your upcoming appointment and that you need to bring/do this/that.” “Thank you so much, Mary.” “You’re welcome and thank you for your service.”
Now, see, how hard was that? She was nice and polite and spoke clearly. I already knew who was calling because their number converts on my phone (I don’t have it in my contacts although I probably should) to show who’s calling.
One last thing about professional phone manners, only make promises you can keep. If you tell the party that you are are going to place them on hold, say how long they’ll be on hold and then, if you wind up having to leave them on hold longer, get back on the line with them and apologize and offer to call them back. Inbound call centers can’t always do that but you can do something. Perhaps annotate their file with what you finally come up with or (I know. You are told not to do this or you will get in trouble.) transfer them to your supervisor.
Finally, all you big companies and all of you monopolies and even, often enough, you local places, please stop telling the biggest lie you have ever told. “You’re call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available representative.” If my call was that important to you, you’d answer it. I know all the arguments and excuses but the point is that you don’t want to spend the money to make it happen. Okay, just admit that. All you have to do is drop that silly, “You’re call is very important to us.” Stop saying that.