Good Telephone Habits for Everyone
Whether you are answering the phone or making phone calls, using the proper protocol is a must in order to maintain professionalism and create an atmosphere that reflects our community values. Proper protocol leaves callers with a favorable impression of you, your department, and the college. You'll find that others treat you with more respect and are more willing to go out of their way to assist you if you use proper protocol.
- Answer your calls promptly. If possible, answer a call within three rings.
- Identify yourself. Always identify yourself when you answer the phone, both to external and to internal callers. With an external call, use a standard pattern such as greeting + department + name + offer to help. For example, “Hello. This is Bill Ingram in the President’s Office. How can I help you?" With an internal call (not a transferred call), simply stating your name is sufficient. For example, “Hi, this is Bill.”
- Speak positively. Speak in a pleasant tone. The caller will appreciate it.
- Listen, then talk. Learn to listen actively and without interrupting.
- Know how to place a call on hold. Use the hold button when leaving a line so that the caller does not accidentally overhear conversations being held nearby.
- Be courteous, especially if the caller has reached you in error. If the caller has reached a wrong number, be supportive. Sometimes a caller is transferred with only a simple question. This can be frustrating. Ask a few questions to see if you can help the caller.
- Remember you may be the first contact. You may be the first and only contact a person will have with your department or the college, and that first impression will stay with the caller long after the call is completed. Our goal is to communicate one of Durham Tech’s core values: “We value a welcoming, vibrant, and safe campus environment. We value an engaging, collegial atmosphere with professional, ethical, and respectful interactions that enhance learning.” Your first impression should emulate these values.
Although it’s tempting to find out what a caller might need and transfer the caller to another area on campus quickly, Durham Tech uses a specific process to ensure we do not cause callers to be transferred multiple times. Thoughtfully and carefully transferring calls reflects positively on our college. Use the following protocol when transferring any call, internally or externally:
- Listen to the caller. Even if you think you know immediately what a caller wants and who can help him or her, hear the caller out. Do not interrupt. You could learn something that will change your mind about how to handle the call.
- Offer to connect the caller to a more knowledgeable person. If you have listened and determined that you cannot help the caller, offer to connect the caller to a more knowledgeable person. If the caller agrees, proceed with the remaining steps. If the caller refuses to be transferred, inform the caller you will ask someone to call him or her instead. Take the caller’s name and telephone number. Repeat the spelling and the number to ensure that you have the correct information. Rephrase the request for information or summarize the concern prior to ending the call. Then give this information to the correct person on campus.
- Give the caller the name, number, and direct extension of the more knowledgeable employee. That way, if there is a disconnection, the caller knows who to call when he or she tries again. Do not give general telephone numbers to a caller who needs to be transferred. Always use a specific extension.
- Offer your name and phone number to follow up. To ensure that the caller gets what he or she needs, offer your name, number, and direct extension, and invite the person to call you back if his or her needs are not met or questions are not answered.
- Ask to put the caller on hold. After asking the caller to hold, press the “transfer” button to place the caller on hold and then dial the extension for the employee to whom you are sending the call.
- Make sure that the employee is available. The caller may be frustrated if the call unexpectedly goes to voicemail. If you know that the person who can help is unavailable, ask before transferring the caller to voicemail.
- Verify that you have the most knowledgeable employee before connecting the call. Introduce yourself to the employee who answers the call, summarize the caller’s request, and ask the employee if he or she can help the caller. If the employee says yes, proceed. If the employee says no, ask for advice regarding who might be a better resource.
- Transfer the call. Once you have found the best resource, transfer the caller.
- Be prepared. Have a pen and message slip handy, or record the message electronically via email when you answer the phone.
- Ask for information. When taking messages, ask for the following information:
- Caller's name (Make sure you have the correct spelling);
- Caller's phone number and/or extension (including area code);
- Student ID# (if the caller is a student); and
- The message.
- Repeat the message. Make sure you understand the caller’s request.
- Record the time and date. Be sure to indicate the date, time, and your name.
- Make sure the message is delivered. Place the message slip in the called party's mailbox or in another appropriate place.
- Offer to transfer the call. You can offer to transfer a caller to voicemail instead of taking a paper message, but don't forget to ask, "Would you like me to transfer you to voicemail?" Do not assume that the caller would rather go to voicemail. Always ask first.
Voicemail has many benefits and advantages when used properly. However, you should not rely upon voicemail to greet a caller. If callers constantly reach your voicemail instead of you, they will suspect that you are avoiding calls. Here are a few guidelines on greetings and responding to voicemail:
- Use a personal greeting. Be sure to record your own personal greeting; don't use the standard default greeting or have another person record your greeting. People tend to feel that they have already lost the personal communication because of voicemail. If a female voice says "Tom Jaynes is not available," the caller will not be convinced that he listens to his voicemail.
- Compose, practice, and record. Write down what you want to say in your greeting and practice saying it a few times before recording.
- Identify your name and department. Include in your greeting your name and department so that people know they have reached the correct person. Consider including your hours.
- Your regular greeting should include your normal work hours. If you know that you will be on vacation for a few days or leaving the office early or have different hours temporarily, you should record an alternate greeting to let callers know this. Callers will know that they cannot expect a call back for a few hours or a few days.
- Keep it short. If your message is rather long, you might consider informing callers of the option to press # (the pound key) to bypass your message and to start recording their message to you.
- Check your messages daily and return messages within 24 hours. Callers should feel comfortable that you are checking your voicemail daily.
- Keep your mailbox clean. Reply, forward, or delete messages immediately. Save messages in voicemail sparingly.
- Explain a forwarded message. If you forward a message to another employee, be sure to explain to the person to whom you are forwarding the message why you are sending it to him or her.
- Speak clearly. Check your rate of speech and enunciate clearly.
- Give your number twice. Be sure to leave your name and extension number. It's best to say it at the beginning and end of your message.
- Be succinct. Keep messages short and to the point.
- Keep it positive. Remember that you want to leave the person you are calling with a good impression of you.
- Facilitate a response. Leave the date and time you called in the message. Let the person know the best time to call you back.
- Limit the message to one topic. Cover one topic in one message; specify what you want the recipient to do.
- Stay calm. Remain diplomatic and polite. Speak with a normal and patient tone. Responding with anger or frustration will only escalate the situation.
- Try to help if you can. Show willingness to resolve the problem or conflict.
- Think like the caller. Remember, this person’s problems and concerns are important. The caller does not have your experience or knowledge.
- Listen, listen, and listen. Often difficult callers just need someone to listen to and understand their story. Once a frustrated caller feels heard, he or she may calm down enough to be open to suggestions.
- Document the call. If you have had an interaction with a difficult caller, document the interaction and the steps you took to help resolve the matter.
- If the matter remains unresolved, notify your supervisor. If the caller is still frustrated or difficult at the end of your call, tell your supervisor about the call as soon as possible.
The speakerphone has advantages when used properly. It may be helpful to use the speaker when conducting a call with multiple people in the room. However, proper protocol requires you ask a caller permission to use the speakerphone prior to using it. Do not answer or initiate a call by speakerphone. Start with a personal handset greeting; then, if appropriate, request permission to place the caller on speakerphone. If all parties agree, press the speaker key on your phone and proceed with the call.