Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reader Question: Ring a Ding

Dear Jay,

My husband and I have enjoyed your columns. We have had lively discussion with friends regarding napkins and seating arrangements at dinner parties. I have two questions: Firstly: how should one answer the telephone at one's home, and how should employees be instructed to answer a business phone? Secondly, shouldn't one announce who is making the phone call? I find it disconcerting when I have no idea to whom I'm speaking. Thank you, Jay.

Yours truly,

V.R.

Dear V.R.,

Thanks for asking these good questions. Answering the telephone at home and at work does have different protocols and manners associated with them. At home, one should answer the telephone with an enthusiastic ‘hello’. The tone of one’s voice says a lot about your frame of mind. Even if you’re not in a good mood, and you decide to answer the phone, inject warmth into your voice. It makes others feel good. If you can’t manage to do this, which some people just can’t, then let the answering machine take the call. If the call is for someone else, refrain from shouting out the person’s name if they are in another room or on another floor. It’s rude and upsetting to others who can hear you. For that matter, if you need to speak with someone who is visually out of sight and likely out of earshot of a normal voice, get up and go to that person. If someone does that to me, I don’t answer. Call me old fashioned, but it was not tolerated in my household when I was growing up.

Teach children how to have good telephone manners as well. You must understand these good manners yourself. It’s kind of like men wearing hats (or baseball caps or toques) indoors. How are children supposed to learn that that’s just wrong if you don’t teach them by example? Answering telephones can be a serious matter. Wearing a hat inside the house is just disrespectful and bad manners. Strangers can call and unsuspecting children can give out way too much information. I remember calling a friend’s house once, looking for either him or his wife. The house sitter answered the phone and told me that they would be away for a week. I had not identified myself, and had I been a thief, with the information she gave me, I would have been able to stage a robbery. Moreover, if small children are at home, a kidnapping could have taken place. I know this may sound alarmist to some folks, but this stuff happens and it is extremely important to teach your children at an early age exactly what to say.

Apologize if you dial a wrong number; don’t eat or drink while speaking on the phone as those unattractive sounds are magnified; and turn down the radio or TV when answering a call for the same reason. Keep a note pad and pencil by each phone and write down messages which will be clear and have all of the pertinent information. Make every effort to return any calls within 24 hours. And if you do not want to answer the telephone, for whatever reason, don't!

At the office, the protocol is somewhat different. Still, a cheery voice gives a good impression of your company. You never know when the call coming in is from a first time caller. It helps to actually smile when you answer the phone. Unless you have your own home business, an enthusiastic ‘hello’ is not sufficient. It is much better to answer with “Windsor House, Jay speaking”, or “Good afternoon, the Windsor House”. Recorded greetings which direct you somewhere else are totally annoying. We all really want to get a live person on the wire. Telephone companies, banks and credit card companies are notorious for this.

If you are an executive assistant, be sure to always use an honorific (Mr., Dr. or Ms.) before the person’s name. For example, say, “Dr. Smith’s office, Ms. Jones speaking.” This gives the proper dignity due the person being phoned. When calling, and you get the secretary of the person you are looking for, feel free to leave a complicated massage if the secretary is capable. Some corporations have highly skilled executive secretaries that can make heaven and earth move. Establishing working relationships with these individuals on the phone can be incredibly helpful in conducting future business.

In answer to your second question, yes it is necessary to identify yourself when you place a call. It is frustrating to be carrying on a conversation with someone only to later realize you have the wrong person on the other end of the phone. Being mindful of another’s time is also a courtesy to extend. Ask if this is a good time to speak with the other person. In any event, be sure to be civil on the phone. Never raise your voice or lose your temper.This is a sure fire way to lose a client or a contact. I find a pleasant phone call can make my day. One that goes on and on can have the opposite effect. Showing respect for one another is the name of the game.