Paging Dr. Ruby: Are Callers Sick of Your Questions?

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Paging Dr. Ruby

How much information should a receptionist gather from callers before transferring them? Collecting detailed information from a caller can be helpful, but asking too many questions often leads to unhappy callers. What’s the perfect balance?

One of our fantastic readers, Laurie, addressed this subject in a comment earlier today:

I’d like to keep [my call screening style] simple. However, some of the office staff want to know “everything” before they will take a call, and then will either refuse it or have it go to voicemail.  How do I handle this without upsetting the caller?
If you’re in a situation like Laurie’s, it may be helpful to check in with your coworkers and ask if there are a few pieces of information you can gather from callers up front that would encourage them to accept more calls. Although asking a lot of questions can annoy a caller, callers are also likely to be annoyed if they’re repeatedly transferred to voicemail. In some cases, being prepared with a little insight into the caller’s query can help your coworkers WOW clients when they do connect.
It might be as easy as adding a question like “May I ask what this is regarding?” to your call screening process. With a little collaboration, you and your team can likely come up with one or two additional questions to ask during the screening process. Here are some examples:

May I ask who is calling? Wonderful! And may I say what this is regarding?

May I have your name? Thank you! And which case are you calling about today?

May I ask who is calling? Fantastic! Have you met with a member of our staff before? Thank you! And how did you hear about our firm?

Regardless of how wonderful a receptionist you are, there will always be calls your coworkers choose not to accept. They may know that a particular client is talkative, and to give them the best experience, they choose to return their call when they have more time to chat. Or they may be coming up against a deadline and know that this caller’s question can wait a few minutes while the project cannot. Whatever the reason, I’ve found the key to keeping callers happy has more to do with a friendly tone and helpful, encouraging words than with being able to do exactly what a caller wants.

When your coworker declines a call — and especially when the caller has tried to reach that coworker repeatedly — focus on what you can do (however limited that may be) when you return to the caller. Here’s an example:

Thank you for your patience! Mr. Smith is away from the phone at the moment, but I’ll be sure to remind him that you’ve been patiently awaiting his call. I have your number from your last message as 503-445-6900; is that still the best number to reach you? Thank you! I will ask him to get in touch with you as soon as possible.

Many thanks to Laurie for her thoughtful question! If you’re looking for call-handling advice, we’d love to help  — ask away in the comment section below!

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