Voice mail has become virtually standard in Canadian businesses
and organizations, but that doesn't mean it's universally applauded.
Many people simply refuse to deal with voice mail and automated
telephone systems, either hanging up at the sound of a personal
message, or pressing zero repeatedly until they are connected to
a human being. You may even be one of them! Here are a few things
your organization can do to provide callers with a constructive
experience, rather than a baffling and frustrating one.
Consider using voice mail only at personal extensions and after-hours,
with a real person picking up calls at your main number.
If you have an automated system, listen to it as though you had
no knowledge of your organization. The difference between "press
1 for communications", "press 2 for public relations"
and "press 3 for general information" may be obvious to
you, but a harried journalist on a deadline is unlikely to have
much patience for vague department titles and a ten minute message.
If you are listed in Sources, then you must be prepared to take
calls from the media. Successful organizations often include a message
such as "Journalists on a deadline, please press 5 now to connect
to our media relations officer on duty" and then make sure
that extension is either staffed or gives an after-hours cellular
or pager number where someone can be reached. Personal voice mail
of those responding to media inquiries should also give alternate
and after-hours numbers.
If you decide to have a human rather than a machine answering your
main number, you still need to make sure that those answering the
phone are educated about your organization, routing calls and most
importantly, basic politeness and professionalism. When calling
for information, service or purchase, nothing is more likely to
make one turn elsewhere than being on hold for ten minutes while
an unapologetic receptionist paws through an employee directory.
Response to callers is like a virtual storefront. If you wouldn't
hold meetings with journalists or clients in a dank, run-down, abandonded
warehouse, then make sure your treatment of calls isn't a telephone
Professional phone manner does not mean being a robot. Even though
a smile can't be seen over the phone, it definitely can be heard!
Maintaining that human touch by being genuinely relaxed and helpful
on the phone makes all the difference.
Make sure those answering the phone are clear about the procedure
for dealing with calls from the media. They should know who to route
journalists' calls to, be aware of alternate numbers and most important,
never, ever, give out inside information to a journalist (or anyone
else for that matter). A little forethought before a crisis can
save a lot of headaches.
Things you never want said about you when you can't come to the
phone (and don't want to know about someone who can't take your
call): "he's in the toilet." "She's on a break."
"She's out for a cigarette." "He went home early."
A simple "I'm sorry, Ms. Johnson has stepped away from her
desk." along with an offer to transfer to someone else or take
a message is discrete and courteous.
Different methods of dealing with telephone traffic have their
pros and cons. Being aware of the type of calls you are getting
and what your organization's priorities are will help you choose
the right way for you. No matter what your system, remember, Grandma
was right: it pays to be polite.
Don't play that
game: Ending telephone tag