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More Telephone Tales

October 5, 2010
Mary Jane Copps

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I know I promised to give you another cold calling formula this week – if I didn’t run into something “news” worthy. I’ve been on the phone steadily this past weeks so have collected some stories to share.

First is the voicemail system that results in, well, rudeness. The system is set up with the traditional menu options and my guess is that either no thought was put into it when it was first set up, or things have changed and the menu hasn’t been updated to reflect those changes.

Option number one is “Press 1 to speak to a staff member.” I was calling for a staff member, so I pressed 1. And I did immediately get a staff member, but not the one I was calling. When I asked for my contact the response was “Call back this number and press 5.” ,Click.

I was completely startled. Initially when she said “Call back this number” I thought she was going to give me an alternative phone number to call, so had picked up my pen. My hand was mid-air when she finished her statement and hung up. It took me a moment to realize she had asked me to redial the initial phone number and press 5 instead of 1.

Yikes! There’s rudeness in the way the staff member dealt with my call. There’s confusion in how the information was given to me. There’s money being lost here for sure, from customers and clients who are frustrated.

Make sure that your voicemail program is working not only for you, but for your customers. If things have changed at your company, make sure you update your voicemail. If you are frustrated with the system, know that your customers and clients are too and do something to change it!

Second, I left a ton of messages this week. It’s part of my job so I’m not complaining. I’m comfortable with the rhythm of leaving messages; I know people will call me back – eventually. And every once and awhile I get to speak with a real person, a receptionist and usually this is a lovely experience.

But this week I had something happen that I haven’t experienced for ages – the pretend message taker! I have to mention this because it fits with the listening exercise I do in my workshops – things to listen for other than language.

A pretend message taker is the person who asks for your name and number and then continually interjects “yeah” while you’re speaking, interrupting you in their effort to simulate writing down your information. I know you’ve all experienced this although because of voicemail it may have been awhile since its happened.

This can happen in conversations over the phone too. The other person starts saying “yeah” at odd or inappropriate times. This lets you know they’ve stopped listening, that they are simulating participation.

What to do? Well, when you are in a conversation and it happens, best to say something like “Sounds like you’ve gotten distracted. Should we pick this up again another time?” Basically you want to say something non-confrontational while letting them know that you know they have left the conversation.

When it’s the person taking a message, it’s a toss up whether you say something or not. In most cases no matter what you say the individual will hear confrontation. You could say “Can you repeat that back to me?” or “Are you sure you got that?” but both of those are tricky. For the message I left last week I just shrugged it off. I know I’ll be calling back this week.

Finally, I had another one of those experiences that gives me great empathy for everyone who struggles to pick up the phone. I called the office manager at a law firm and got totally roasted. It started out with the receptionist putting me through, the office manager picking up the phone and … wait for it … hanging up! Talk about passive aggressive.

I’m so thick-skinned now that I just dialed back immediately. We went through this three times before she took my call. I spoke to her the same way I speak with everyone – efficient, energetic, professional – and she was having none of it. Her message was clear – she did not have any time for the likes of me.

If and when it happens to you remember – this says volumes about her and that law firm. It does not reflect on you at all. When you contact companies with a well-composed, targeted, professional message and they are unwilling to give you a 30-second audience, walk away with your head held high. It is very much their loss.

Happy dialing everyone!

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