Some simple advice about answering your phone

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The phone has evolved in use in the last decade, in part because its evolution into an all-purpose multimedia live tool. Last week, for example, word got around on social media about some articles we had published in Ontario Construction News about what turned to a be short-lived strike by plumbers and pipefitters. As it seems we were one of only a few media outlets to cover the issues in real-time, various people posted a link to the article on their Facebook feeds, and the news spread rapidly.

At some points, in what would otherwise be quiet evening hours, I noticed upwards of 150 to 200 simultaneous visitors to the relevant website/page. Overall, the site attracted more than 10,000 page views in a couple of days. This number is small for a large market, but ours is a regional, specialized publication and we’re generally happy with 100 page views a day.

That said, what about the old-fashioned voice phone? Here, I notice two fundamental qualities. If the call is for business purposes, either the call is junk, or it is very important. There seems to be no middle ground. And most inbound calls from people who are not current clients are, well, junk.

Junk calls to me include scams (yes, the “Canadian Revenue Agency” fake roll-calls threatening problems with taxes), telemarketers selling crap, surveys, or (more focused on our business), publicists seeking coverage of their news releases, generally on topics that are of marginal interest.

Then there are important calls — anything from a customer complaint, someone wanting to pay an invoice and calling me (I publish my number as a back-up to our bookkeeper on the invoices), or employees/clients engaged with us with current projects that need the real-time voice contact to resolve.

The challenge: How do you handle the in-bound calls? This is a real weak-spot for me, because I can be downright rude for the inbound junk calls.

Rudeness is certainly justified for the scams. (Scammers calling from long lists don’t know that my taxes are in good order and in fact after an auditor reviewed the files — through several months of documentation and, yes, some legitimate phone calls — we received a refund of several thousand dollars in excess payroll tax remittances). But what about the other callers: The survey-takers, publicists and telemarketers who are simply trying to do their jobs?

Here I’m afraid I need to learn how to practice what I preach. It takes just a few seconds to courteously decline the inbound offer, perhaps explaining the policy reason for the declination.

And, of course, it is important to handle the introduction, especially when you don’t know who is calling, as the phone number may be unfamiliar. Could the caller be important, or junk?

Michael Stone offers some useful observations about the telephone introductions and immediate responses in a recent newsletter.

Last week I called fourteen contractors for various reasons; eleven of them answered the phone with “Hello.” That’s not how you inspire potential clients. It leaves a negative first impression, and those are difficult to change.

It also fits the stereotype of contractors as flakes instead of professionals. Gang, if you want to be treated as a professional, and paid as a professional, you have to act like a professional. Start by answering your phone correctly.

When you answer the phone, say something positive: “Good morning”, or “Good afternoon.” Then tell them who they’re speaking with, both the company and the person: “Bob’s Construction Company, Bob Smith speaking.” Finish with the five words every potential client wants to hear: “How may I help you?” Give it a try and see if you don’t get a more positive response.

So, a simple introduction — one which I’ll try beginning with the next inbound call. The answer may also help allay my rudeness — because I’m starting off on a positive note, I won’ t be easily turn hostile to the caller when I discover the call is “junk”. I’ll transition naturally to a more positive declination, if that is needed, but at least leave on a positive note.

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