To some people this topic may be trivial but due to recent experience this is crucial. The telephone is often the first point of contact a parent will have with a childcare provider, so it is very important that you make a good first impression when you are answering the phone. I have recently had the need to call various nurseries around the country and I was surprised…shocked actually in the way the phone was answered by employees and business owners. Some answered the phone with a depressed tone or dripping in attitude, some examples are:
“Hello, how can I help?”
“Morning, Sandra speaking”
“…no James not now, go and play. Hello Katherine speaking, how can I help?”
Taking care of your clients over the telephone and making them feel well informed and appreciated is an essential practice. If I had been a potential parent, looking to place my child in one of the settings above I would think twice. In my mind regardless of an “Outstanding” rating by Ofsted if they can’t be professional over the phone, perhaps Ofsted missed something.
I’m aware many of these tips are common sense yet I’m also aware common sense is not very common….
1) ANSWER THE PHONE PROMPTLY
Do not permit the phone to ring more than three times. Yes I appreciate you may be busy or not in the position to answer the phone immediately. If that is the case divert the phone to an answer machine or a call minding service. Potential or existing clients lead busy lives and if you let the phone ring too long before answering, they might have already hung up and taken their business elsewhere!
2) POSITIVE TONE OF VOICE
Since you are not face-to-face, the most important measure of good communication is the voice quality and tone. Smile…yes smile it makes a difference to the tone of your voice and clients pick up on that. We all have off days when we feel the world is against us or we’re simply too busy or do not feel in the mood for work. The last thing a caller needs to hear on the other end of the phone is a sullen voice which gives off the impression that you can’t be bothered talking. Be positive, polite, upbeat and slightly animated. Not “TGI Friday” enthusiastic but a happy medium.
3) INITIAL GREETING
A warm, friendly, professional greeting such as company name and the person’s name who answers the call. The greeting should end with a helpful statement that assures the caller you are willing to help: Such as “Good morning/afternoon Beautiful Nursery, Jessica speaking, how can I help you?” Speak more slowly than you would if you were having a face-to-face conversation. Important details can get overlooked; this is especially true if you have a very pronounced regional accent.
4) LISTEN TO CALLER
One of the most important techniques in telephone etiquette is to actively listen to the client. Listen for both the content as well as the intent. Usually the client tells you both in his/her opening statement. By listening actively to the client’s opening comments, you can then RESPOND with a statement that assures the client you HEARD what was being said.
5) DO NOT APPEAR RUSHED
Never interrupt the person while he/she is talking to you, this is rude, annoying and shows impatience. Do not give the impression that you are rushed. If you are busy, it is better to return the call when you can give the person the time they need to handle the reason for their call.
6) DO NOT CHEW
Never chew gum o eat when you are answering the phone. It sounds extremely unprofessional and gives an immediate impression of a slack, sloppy uncaring organisation.
7) CORRECT PRONUNCIATION
Forgetting or mispronouncing the caller’s name after they have provided it will put the potential client off immediately. If you happen to mispronounce their name, ask them how to pronounce it properly, tell them you want to get it correct. Demonstrate you care, you are in the “caring” profession, minute details matter.
8) TRANSFER A CALL
Find out the name of the caller and ask what the call is regarding. Ask permission to place a caller on hold. Stay on the line until the other staff member answers. Provide the staff member with the caller’s name and nature of the call. If the other staff member is unavailable, return to the caller and apologise for the inconvenience and offer to take a written message with the promise of a returned call. Most of us can remember all too clearly a time when we were placed on eternal hold and wondered if we had been forgotten.
9) OFFER SOLUTIONS/ALTERNATIVES
If you know you can’t do what the client is asking, just tell him/her what you CAN do. There are usually alternatives that a client will be willing to accept, IF you just take time to offer!
10) ENDING THE CALL
Before ending the call, you should always try to recap what you’ve discussed, if appropriate, and ask the caller if there is anything else you can help them with before saying ‘goodbye’ and hanging up. It’s also good practice to let the caller hang up before you do if that is not possible hang up the phone, gently. You are not a barbarian, so don’t act like one.