Essay: Informational phoning rules reset.

Rules reset, phone manners.
Here’s an actual transcription of a phone call I received at work last week.
Me:  [Name of School], this is Patricia
Caller:  Uh, is this the school located at [gave address of school]?
Me: Yes it is.
Caller:  Are you gonna move any time soon?
Me:  We have our lease for another few years, but we have no plans to move in the future.
Caller:  Oh.
Me: Why do you ask?
Caller:  Oh.  Uh.  I’m opening a Medical Marijuana store and you guys are getting in the way of my plans.
Me:  Ah.  Well, you should plan on us being here for the foreseeable future.
Caller:  Okay. [Hangs up]
I chuckled, because I don’t get calls from medical marijuana dealers every day, but I also think this random interchange provides a great framework for shoring up our phone manners.  I’ve noticed they have diminished over the last decade or so, so let’s do a reboot.
1.  Figure out what you are calling for.
This seems rather obvious, but most people don’t do it.  I get a lot of random opening questions that aren’t quite heading us in the right direction to get the information the callers are looking for.  Then I have to play a hit-and-miss game of questions to pinpoint the information the caller is looking for.  In this case, Mr. Medical Marijuana wanted to know if he could hold off opening his business and still be in the location he had chosen because maybe the school had plans to move.  But yet, he starts by asking me to identify the school and location.
2. Begin with your name (first AND last) and perhaps title.
I know that many phone-type devices have ways to display who is calling, but this is not yet a universal thing.  I don’t have this for my phone at work.  When you begin your call with your name and title, it helps the person you are calling slot you into the correct part of her brain so she can help you.  In this gentleman’s case, I wasn’t sure if I was talking to a parent who needed the address, a visitor to the school or some other random thing.  If he had begun with something along the lines of, “Hello, my name is Steve Ganja of Ganja’s Buds and I have a question about your school,” then I would have been able to slot him into “outsider with random question” category and proceeded accordingly.
It’s also much friendlier to begin with your name.  I have quite a few calls from grandparents that begin with, “When’s Spring Break?” and when I tell them, they say thank you and then disconnect.  It feels rather abrupt and leaves me feeling slightly used.  And I’ve said it before, but please use both names.  All you Allisons and Jennifers and Dinas and Hilarys, there are multiples of you and I never know which one I am talking to.  I have to guess.  Throw on a last name and I’m golden.
3. State your question quickly and concisely.
In Steve Ganja’s case, he maybe could have said something along the lines of, “I’m opening a Medical Marijuana business and have just learned that your school is within 1000 feet of my preferred location, which means I can’t sell there.  But I’m wondering if you have any plans to move in the near future.”  See how clean and complete that is?
4.  When you have what you need, be sure to end the call politely.
A “hey, thanks” is always welcome.  Kind wishes for the day are good too.

If everyone would take these steps, phone conversation would be vaulted into pleasant interchanges during the day, rather than bemusing ones.

4 thoughts on “Essay: Informational phoning rules reset.”

  1. This is great. Having spent years answering phones for businesses, I feel your pain. The worst was one of my jobs on Maui. A doctor's office had accidentally listed our telephone number as theirs (I couldn't find their real phone number listed anywhere). We would get calls for them all the time.

    The thing that drove me nuts is that people would never listen to me. I always answered the phone "[Energy Company Name], Jan speaking. How may I help you?" And they would always say, "I need to make a doctor's appointment." How are you going to make a doctor's appointment with an energy company? So frustrating.

  2. For whatever reason, my phone number when I lived in Somerville was prone to a lot of wrong numbers. I had a very clear answering machine message (ach! This is starting to sound very, "back in my day" due to changing technology) that said, "You've reached [whatever the number was] Patricia can't come to the phone right now." So if the people would have listened, they would have known two ways that they had the wrong number. But no. I got a ton of messages meant for other people. One went on for some time about who would bring the potato salad, and other logistical plans, and I listened to the entire thing hoping they left a return number, so I could call them and let them know the wrong person had all the detail, but no. Someone's plans went askew. But it was their own fault for not listening.

  3. I think Mr. Steve Ganja was already using his prescription and you are lucky he was even THAT lucid. I do follow your rules for proper phone manners because I like to get to the point and have them KNOW I have a point and I am not just calling to waste their time… Oh, and NOT saying thank you and good bye is wrong! and totally rude! That is my biggest phone peev. Not saying good bye. Like it is so tough. BYE.

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