24 February 2011

Telephone skills for nonprofit professionals: A three step program.

I don't have much patience for fools, knaves, or salespeople making cold calls.(1) In addition, I don't especially relish talking on the phone,(2) which makes me a less than ideal candidate to man the switchboard of a nonprofit organization. Fortunately, I am never asked to take that duty, but I do have to make and receive phone calls on the job, and that necessity has done little to sweeten my disposition.

Thus, I am always staggered when colleagues and random strangers compliment me on my "beautiful phone manners," and ask me how I acquired them. The real answer is parental nagging at an early age, but I refuse to discuss childhood traumas or to perpetrate them.

Let us therefore place our hopes in remedial adult education. I have devised a short course on telephone skills for nonprofit professionals, which I present here as a three step process.(3)

  • Step 1:Brush up on the concepts you learned in kindergarten, such as turn-taking in conversation, not hitting people, and saying you're sorry.

  • Step 2: Make a telephone log, and use it every time you make or receive a phone call. Jot down things that the people at the other end do or say that piss you off, especially people who answer phones all day, such as receptionists. Some examples might be:

    • Acting as if an incoming call is an enemy incursion.

    • Transferring your call before you've had a chance to finish asking your question.

    • Implying that by telephoning during business hours you have interrupted someone's true vocation. (Microscopy? Composing Petrarchan sonnets? Forensic entomology? The mind reels.)

    • Brusque or unhelpful initial greetings when you call. (Such as "What the #&*% do you want?")

    • Carrying on conversations with people in the room with them, without making it clear that these remarks are not addressed to you.

    • Interrupting phone conversations to respond to call waiting, in non-emergency situations.

    • Omitting the necessary hypocrisies, such as sincere-sounding commiseration when the information or service that you are requesting can't be provided.

    • Failing to inform a caller politely and concisely that this isn't a good time to talk.

    • Total strangers addressing you by your given name, while referring to their colleagues by titles.

    • Total strangers addressing you as "honey"or "sweetie," or using some other annoying endearment.

    • Failing to ask first before putting you on hold.

    • Failing to wait for an answer to the question about whether you're willing to be put on hold.

    • Answering questions with monologues that don't allow you an opportunity to provide crucial information, such as “That's not what I had in mind – please let me clarify,” or “I think I may have reached the wrong John Smith,” or even “My office is on fire; I'm going to evacuate the building now and call you back later.”

1) Yes, I do realize that these are not always mutually exclusive human categories.

2) You'll never convince me that the main point of an iPhone is that it enables you to make and receive phone calls.

3) I gather that recovery from alcoholism is a twelve step process that takes a lifetime. Developing reasonably good telephone skills is a three step process that takes only a few weeks.

1 comment:

Maura, foster parent recruiter said...

I love your phone skills. I work in a small, nonprofit foster care agency. There are times when people are so overwhelmed with tasks that they forget to be nice to people calling on the phone. Our life blood is our foster parents and the agencies we collaborate with thus public relations is key. Thanks for the subtle reminders - Maura, Foster Parent Recruiter