June 01, 2005

"Etta who!?"

A nice article from Janet Cho for Newhouse about one of my pet peeves--phone manners:

[...] Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., enumerates a number of phone faux pas in his book "The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success," co-written with Peggy Post. At the top of the list for callers is failing to identify yourself at the beginning of a conversation.

"The presumption, of course, is that you recognize their voice," he said.

How many times have I had to carry on a conversation with someone whose identity I could only guess at? The worst was once when one of Reba's aunts called--an aunt we rarely see, and whom I have actually met face-to-face about three times--and she called up one day and just started yammering at me about something and it took me nearly five minutes to get her to a) shut up, b) identify who she was, and c) figure out why she was calling. After I got to b), I just handed the phone to Reba.

"The second mistake I think people make, especially in cubicle farms, is to presume that their call is totally private, that nobody will listen to them," he said. "But there's a thing called `phone voice,' where people talk louder when they talk on the phone."

At The Bad Place, we had an old Andy Rooney clone who'd get on the blower to his wife and cuss at her loudly and lengthily. Such a sweetie pie, he was. I do believe he was the inspiration for title of the Rocky Horror Picture Show song, "Dammit, Janet." Only the title, though--unlike the song, the rest of his conversations were always full of mean gassy vitriol. And we allllll got to listen along. Whee.

If you're talking to someone you've never met and can't pick up visual cues on how you're coming across, the quality of your voice and your choice of words become even more important. "The volume of your voice matters to me. The tone of your voice matters," he said.

The way employees answer the phone is critical to making a good first impression, Post said. The person on the other end relies on your voice to gauge your energy, enthusiasm and interest. That's why you should identify yourself with your name and the name of your company, as well as a courtesy greeting such as "How may I help you?" [...]

I might have to print this article out and leave it in the outer office. I'm not saying for sure, but there is the possibility that we might have some reception staff who might benefit from the idea that a person should not have the phone manners of a hyena. But that's purely speculation. I mean, this is a bureaucracy, and we'd NEVER hire ANYone who wasn't fully capable of using a device so simple as a telephone. Right!? Right? Anyone?

The article goes on for a good bit more, and all of it's good advice. Mainly because it's all common sense, which, as we all know, ain't that common. It concludes with a list of Dos and Don'ts, which are always helpful. The biggest ones on my list?

1) Don't lie--don't say someone's away if they're not; just say you'll have to take a message.

2) Don't daydream and dawdle during a business call. I got one today from some dude who sounded like he was alternately staring out the window and taking bong hits. The call took thirty minutes, and there was about two minutes worth of information he actually needed.

3) Don't make me say things three times. Listen if you want to know what I'm saying.

4) Don't you use that tone of voice with me!

5) Do return your calls.

6) Do try to speak clearly. Those of you whom I've had the chance to talk to know I start out very intelligibly before I drop off into my more comfortable and familiar Junior Samples-speak that I use with family. I never know who's on the other end, and it's better to start off at least sounding like you might know something.

7) For you receptionists out there (and NO, I have NO knowledge of ANYone on my floor who might benefit from this!) don't scream; don't interrogate callers; don't try to fill me in on their problem rather than just letting me talk to them; don't be psychotically abrupt; if I'm on the phone, TAKE A MESSAGE; when you take a message, GIVE IT TO ME; don't make noises that callers could mistake for wild animal noises, such as the braying of an injured zebra, or the hooting of a gibbon; do not burp into the mouthpiece and then scream I'M SORRY I BURPED!; do not slam the phone down into the cradle; do not tell people I have gone for the day when I sign out for lunch; do not tell people they talk funny; say things such as "please" and "thank-you" when you speak to the public; if you simply MUST ask, pleasantly ask, "May I tell him who's calling, please?" rather than screaming "WHO IS THIS?!"; and finally, although I am religious, and I appreciate people who try to be, it's probably counterproductive for you to run about the office screaming, "O SWEET LORD JESUS, PLEASE GIVE ME THE STRENGTH TO ANSWER THE TELEPHONE," because, you know, it's really not one of those things that requires a whole lot of supernatural intervention for it to proceed smoothly.

Not that I know anyone who acts like this. Because I don't.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at June 1, 2005 01:49 PM

We have a newly appointed Colonel in charge of our outfit, just did the change of command ceremony last week. I've had 2 sit down meetings with him already- that's a bad thing.

Yesterday he calls me- Hi, this is Robert McMurXXX...

It took me several seconds to realize it was Colonel McMurXXX on the other end of the phone line. From a crusty old Mastersergeant's POV, I like to know its the big boss calling, not just anybody looking for the chow hall's daily menu line.

Posted by: Nate at June 1, 2005 03:18 PM

Depending on how young they make colonels nowadays, you might be lucky you got a first and last name instead of just "Bobby."

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at June 1, 2005 03:20 PM

Please tell me the burping thing didn't really happen. Please.

Posted by: skinnydan at June 2, 2005 08:38 AM

I wish I could, Dan. Oh, how I wish I could.


Posted by: Terry Oglesby at June 2, 2005 08:45 AM