With the phone ubiquitous in our culture the assumption seems to be “no training required.” Few employers provide any training for this most important communication tool. After all, who doesn’t know how to use a telephone? As it turns out, a lot of people. You have probably been on the other end of the line with some of them.
Rudeness, even dispensed unintentionally, is never pleasant but is often overlooked in some business circumstances. Sometimes we’re just happy to be talking with a real person and not an automated assistant. But, people who call the church office expect courtesy. Telephone manners create an image of one’s church, organization, or business—perhaps accurate, perhaps not—but nevertheless lasting. Nothing sets you apart from the crowd more than a warm and appealing telephone presence.
When you answer the church phone you never know what’s waiting—a simple request, an upset member, a stranger seeking help, a happy announcement, some tragic news, a salesperson. What a challenge! Without question, proper phone techniques should be at the top of the skills list for every church office professional. Be aware, callers may not remember what you say, but they surely will remember how you say it.
Let two to three rings be the rule. Obviously this may not always be possible. Usually it is. An incessantly ringing office phone projects an impression of inefficiency. It is so much better to answer promptly than to start a conversation with an excuse (never a good idea).
Speak naturally, but distinctly
When a person can’t see your facial expressions, how you sound becomes immensely important. Smile even before you pick up the phone. Let your voice be warm and welcoming. If you tend to speak fast, slow down a bit. To sound your best, speak in your lower vocal range. You want your voice to be positive, energetic, have good pace, and to be loud enough without overdoing. Ours is a nation of lazy speakers. Even broadcasters, who should know better, drop the g from ing words—in an attempt to be casual and friendly some say. But is “Thanks for watchin’” really friendlier than “Thanks for watching?” Enunciate. The friendliest thing we can do for listeners is to speak distinctly.
Speak directly into the mouthpiece.
Whether handheld or headset, landline or cell, the mouthpiece is best positioned about one and a half inches from your lips; tucking the receiver between shoulder and chin is not a good tactic. Have to cough or sneeze? Cover the receiver, muffle the sound, and offer a quick “excuse me.” Professionals who follow the businesslike practice not to eat, drink, or chew gum in the office, won’t do any of those things on the phone either. You want your voice to be what comes across, not background noise.
Be friendly, but businesslike
When answering calls, identify your church or business, and yourself. Using your full name projects a professional image, but some ministry assistants find using a first name is more friendly. Do what works best for you and your supervisor.
Identification can be carried too far. “Good morning. First Christian Church. Patricia Professional speaking. How may I help you?” is a little much for most of us. An enthusiastic, “First Christian Church; Miss Professional” works fine. It is assumed Patricia is there to help.
If you screen calls: “May I say who’s calling? … Thank you. I’ll ring her office” is preferable to “Who’s calling please?” which gives the impression the person being called is “in” to some people and “out” to others.
Business calls deserve business language. Don’t allow phrases like uh huh, yeah, okay, bye bye, and the like creep into your conversations. Reserve your personal problems and concerns for personal calls; there are many good reasons to keep your private life out of the office.
Give full attention
The caller deserves your full attention. Focus on the conversation; listen carefully. If you are asked, “Do you have time to talk?” respond with an appropriate time limit: “I have five minutes and they are all yours.” Avoid shuffling papers and clicking computer keys during business calls.
Determine the caller’s needs. Ask any necessary questions. Work to keep calls short; take care of the caller’s needs, offer a pleasant conversation ender and say good-bye. Some office calls are not entirely business; exercise good judgment by keeping calls primarily business related.
Avoid engaging in other conversations while you are on the phone. If someone demands your attention during your conversation, ask the caller if she can hold (wait for an answer), dispatch the person as promptly as possible, return to your caller with a short Thank you for holding and get back to the business of the call. Never use the expression, “hold on.” It is not necessary to belabor the reason for the interruption or to spend time on multiple apologies.
Field calls with poise
Talk with your supervisor about common phone situations and develop a consistent way of handling them. For instance, when the person being called is not in or unavailable: “Dr. Jones is out of the office just now. Would you like his voice mail?” or “May I be of help?” or “May I take a message?”
Don’t promise a call back unless you have been directed to do so. Never use the expression, “I’ll have him call.” This gives the impression you are in control of return calls being made. It’s more than likely you are not. Your job is to deliver the message; the recipient will decide how to respond.
One pastor/assistant team uses this technique for calls during the minister’s study times: “Pastor John is studying now but is available to you if you need him. Would you like me to ring his office or would his voice mail be helpful?” This could be adapted to many offices using whatever options the minister prefers.
Some callers may try your patience. Some may be rude or inconsiderate. It happens. Even in a church office. Stay calm.
Get complete information
With the wide use of voice mail, email, and texting you may take fewer messages than previously. That makes it no less important to get information that is complete and correct. Note the date and time on every message. Listen carefully. If you aren’t clear about something, ask. Double check the caller’s name and number and make a brief note of the message. If more than one person takes messages in your office, initial your note.
Rather than use random slips of paper, use message pads. Check out the variety at your office supply store or make customized forms of your own. Finally, be sure the message gets to the intended person in a timely manner.
Handle transfers and holds smoothly
To transfer a call: “I’ll ring Miss Smith’s office. One moment please.” Be sure to say office, not desk. If Miss Smith is not available and voice mail is an option: “Would you like Miss Smith’s voice mail?”
Always ask before putting someone on hold: “Would you care to hold while I check?” or “May I put you on hold for a moment?” Wait for an answer; the caller may prefer to call back. When placing a caller on hold always use the hold button on the phone rather than putting the phone on the desk or covering it with your hand. Try never to leave a caller holding for more than 45 seconds or so without reconnecting. Use the caller’s name when returning to the line: “Thank you for holding, Mrs. Nelson (or Mary, or whomever). I have the information now.”
Perhaps the caller wants you to look up something that will take a while. Rather than keep him on hold, ask if you may call back in a few minutes. Then, be sure to make that call. Never ask the caller to call later; you make the call unless he suggests otherwise.
Like the hold button, the speakerphone function should be used only with the caller’s consent. Even with permission, other than an exceptional circumstance, there are few real reasons to making conversations vulnerable to being overheard. Use discretion.
Control outgoing calls
Before placing calls, organize! Jot down points to cover; have information at hand. If you should get a wrong number, apologize and verify that you dialed incorrectly (so the mistake can be corrected and not made again).
Reaching your number, get right to the reason for the call. Unless you really need or want to know, avoid “How are you?” and “What’s new?” These questions only open doors that may be difficult to close. But, this is a church call after all and may be more personal than a typical business call. Use your good judgment.
End calls with a sincere thank you. Use friendly phrases: “Thank you for calling. I’ll get right on that,” or “I appreciate your help. Please call me if you have any questions.” Once the common wisdom was to say (even to incoming callers) something like “I’ve taken enough of your time; I’ll let you go now,” but this has been used so much it can come across as canned. Choose a conclusion that leaves the caller feeling good about the call—and about you.
Goodbye now. Have a great day.