Saturday, August 05, 2006

Answering the Telephone 101

Hello! Welcome to my very popular class on ‘Advanced Techniques on How to Annoy People on the Phone”. This week’s lesson is Basic Telephone Etiquette. Let’s begin.

Lesson 1: Never answer the phone with your name or the name of your company. Because if you did, that would immediately clarify for the caller that he or she has called the correct number. A simple, bored ‘Hello’ delivered in a flat, emotionless tone is precisely the right note to take. Remember, a complete lack of interest in the caller is the message you are trying to convey.

Lesson 2: Never say more than you have to. For instance, if someone asks, “Yes, hello. Is that, uhm, Cannon Ball Events Management?”, the proper response is “Yah?” and nothing more. Some beginners will add, “Can I help you?” This is the wrong response as it creates the incorrect impression that you actually care about the caller’s needs.

Lesson 3: Monosyllabic answers are key to the success of any telephone conversation. In fact, the preferred response to any question is “Yes”. For example: -

Caller: Hi. Is this Monogram Pte Ltd?

You: Yes.

Caller: Do you have Model XYZ?

You: Yes.

Caller: How much is it?

You: Yes.

Caller: No, how much is it?

You: Yes.

Caller: I don’t think you’re very bright. Let me speak to someone else. What’s the name of your supervisor?

You: Yes.

Remember, your goal is to encourage the caller to hang up.

Lesson 4: If the person that the caller is calling for is unavailable, there are a number of possible responses. One is “Not in”. Another is “He outstation”. My preferred response is “You call back.” Studies indicate that most will not call back. This is your ultimate goal, because you do not want to be bothered with a return call. Especially, since this is not your company and you could care less if it folded up tomorrow.

Lesson 5: Some callers will be very rude and persistent. They will insist on leaving a message. Such situations call for some psychological finesse. You must create the impression that you are diligently taking the message, when all the while you’re surfing the Net with one hand and scratching your bum with the other. To do this, you say, “What’s the message? Uh huh, yes, uh huh, how do you spell that, uh huh, great, I’ll give Mrs Kwan that message when she comes in.” Hang up the phone and get on with Google-ing that hot guy you’re going on a date with tonight.

Lesson 6: Pretend you don’t speak whatever language that person is speaking in. The ideal response is a shrill “Hah?” So, for instance, most callers will speak in English. This is your cue to say, “Hah?” and then mutter something in Hindi. If, by pure bad luck, the caller is fluent in Hindi, switch immediately to Hakka. Studies show that the odds of someone actually being able to speak both Hindi and Hakka are one in two gazillion. If all else fails, shout, “Hah?” several times at the top of your voice. And then hang up.

Lesson 7: Install an automated phone system. This is an established favourite of all government departments and banks and is guaranteed to ensure that all frivolous calls are screened. Buy only the best system. How do you tell if it’s the best? The easiest way is to check the number of options that are available for each command. The rule of thumb is – the more the better with the most commonly used option at the end. Eg, “For Latin, press 1. For Swahili, press 2…And for English, press 55.” Important note: if the system you are looking at has the following option, “To speak to an operator, press 0”, put it back on the shelf. Speaking to an actual operator defeats the whole point of an automated phone system.

To summarise this lesson, this is what a good phone conversation should sound like:

You: Hallo.

Caller: Oh, hi. Is that Power to the People Pte Ltd?

You: Hah?

Caller: Uh, is that Power to the People?

You: Yes.

Caller: Can I speak to Buay Ta Han?

You: He not in.

Caller: Where is he?

You: Out station.

Caller: Can I leave a message?

You: You call back.

Caller: When?

You: Yes.

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