What’s This Call About?

What’s This Call About?

Years (and years) ago, in a world of typewriters and carbon paper, I taught an evening course for real estate secretaries. It will come as no surprise that, in addition to talking about listing forms and purchase agreements, I emphasized the importance of the telephone. And there was one phrase I asked students to be very careful about because, when said the wrong way, in the wrong tone, it contains such a weight of rudeness that, in terms of relationship building, it’s destructive.

This phrase jumped out at me this past week. I can’t remember where I was calling, or why, but after I had asked if so-and-so was available the receptionist said with great force “What’s this call about?”

It instantly crawled under my skin and urged me to respond in kind, say something like “What’s it to you!” – but I didn’t. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that the young woman was only trying to do her job – and that she hadn’t been trained very well.

Phrases like “What’s this call about?” or “Why are you calling?” won’t elicit any valuable information and they will offend the caller. If you or someone you know really needs to screen calls, tell them to incorporate a bit of care, a little more service.

If the young woman I spoke to had said, “Oh so-and-so is not available at all today but I work directly with her. Perhaps I can help?”, I certainly would have warmed up to an in-depth conversation. Honesty works as well: “So-and-so has asked me to screen some of her calls this week. Can you tell me a bit more about why you’re calling?” If neither of these options is suitable, saying “May I ask the reason for your call?” at least holds enough courtesy and politeness that skin crawling is eliminated.

Are you encountering receptionists that haven’t received adequate training? Consider sending them a link to this blog.

Happy phonework everyone! TPL

0 thoughts on “What’s This Call About?”

  1. Just talked to a friend about this. Secretaries can be so tough. Funnily we wondered if the tone of our voice is harsher than it needs to be because we expected to be rejected by them; instead of being friendly. Any thoughts on this?

    • Great Question! I provide a detailed response in my March 19 2012 post. Hope you have a chance to check it out!


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