The telephone may be increasingly relegated to the proverbial backseat in favour of live chats, emails, social media, and online messaging, but the good old fashioned telephone is still the communication tool of choice for many people when it comes to making enquiries about the products and services that a business has to offer.
Correct call handling techniques, including telephone answering and message taking, are therefore of crucial importance to all businesses great and small, not least because they empower the business to make a favourable impression upon the caller, i.e. an existing customer or a potential customer.
What’s more, when one takes into account the fact that those first few seconds of contact over the phone can convert a caller into a loyal customer, or send them running in the direction of the competition, it suffices to say nothing about the telephone answering and message taking process should be left to chance.
Workstations and message taking – Don’t get lost in the mess
The dangers of messy desks in the workplace should be well-known – making a poor impression on customers and visitors to the office, confusion, disorganisation, lax health and hygiene standards, etc. Nevertheless, it would appear that many people are completely unaware of how unprofessional a messy work desk is.
- Ensure the desk where phone calls are answered is neat and tidy
- Make sure that there’s enough blank paper and pens handy
- Develop a system for leaving messages, like tacking messages to a board
With a neat and tidy area dedicated to message taking and a board for messages to be placed on, there’s no reason why all messages taken won’t make their way to the recipient in a timely manner, or that messages will get lost and not be received at all.
The system used for allocating messages to various recipients is very important and organisation is vital here. A message board, something along the lines of a corkboard with tacks or a whiteboard is the best choice here, one that can be divided into names with space under each name for messages to be placed.
The use of multiple colours, etc. can prove particularly effective at alerting people to the fact that they have new messages awaiting them.
Accurate message taking
After making an excellent first impression upon the caller with a consistent phone greeting, a pleasant tone of voice, and genuine willingness to help the caller, you need to take an accurate message on behalf of your boss or colleague. What follows are a few key pieces of information that an accurate message entails.
- The name of the caller (and their business if applicable)
- A phone number to return the call
- The time of the call and a brief message
Start taking the message by confirming the caller’s name and asking for the name of their business (if applicable) – you should have already asked them their name as part of the initial greeting – then the contact number on which they can be reached, followed by the purpose of the call.
You need to be specific when asking for a message and keep it short and sweet. For instance, ‘If you’d like … to call you back, please leave a brief message,’ or, ‘May I ask the purpose of the call?’ Afterwards, repeat the message back to the caller so as to ensure that their details and the message are correct, perhaps asking for the spelling of their name if you’re unsure, and thank them for their call.
Avoiding preventable problems
It should be easy enough to take a message on behalf of your boss or a colleague, but what happens when the caller seems reluctant to provide you with information or outright refuses?
There are a few common scenarios that might play out here, such as ‘He/she knows what I’m calling about’, which is perhaps the most difficult message to take on behalf of someone else without causing offence, which is something you just can’t do afford to do.
You need to ask for a message again, but this time try using the word ‘because’ as you’re more likely to have them comply with your request. Therefore, for example try, ‘I need to take a short message because … is very busy today and he/she is only accepting urgent calls’, or ‘I’m asking because it will help … to prioritise your call.’
Whilst you have to be firm with the caller so as to elicit the information you need, you must also be accommodating, reasonable and understand that there are often times when callers simply don’t want to leave a message because it’s a private matter.
‘He/she already has my number’, is another common response, and once again you have to be firm yet accommodating and reasonable – ‘I’d like to take your number please because I’m not sure if … has your contact information with him/her.’
- Be pleasant, accommodating and reasonable with the caller at all times
- You may need to be firm, use the word ‘because’ and explain the ‘why’
- Thank the caller for their time, but don’t give an exact time for the call back
Avoiding preventable problems by following the best practices listed above should prove easy, however, bear in mind that there may be times when you have followed the steps required of you to a tee, yet the caller is still unwilling to comply with your requests.
If that’s the case, take down as much information as you can, and make a note for the recipient of the message. Chances are the recipient, your boss or a colleague, will have had similar experiences with that caller on previous occasions.
Message taking is a simple process, one entailing key steps that must be adhered to. Understanding the many knock-on effects of improper message taking techniques is crucially important, as is providing all members of staff with basic message taking training to ensure consistency, along with insisting upon best practices that raise the bar suitably high.
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