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Telephone Skills

This Extension training sheet was developed by Don Broshar, Extension Training and Development Specialist, for
use by office assistants. December 2009
The telephone is an important tool in Extension. It can be the office assistant's best friend or biggest frustration.
Office assistants are professionals and their use of the telephone is essential to their effectiveness. Below are
several ideas on the professional use of this necessary tool.
In order to help you improve your telephone skills take two actions:
1. Tape record your voice, and only your voice, as you talk on the telephone. Tape your voice at different times
throughout the day. Listen to the recordings and learn from what you hear.
2. Use a telephone log sheet to analyze the calls you receive. The log sheet should include:
Time of call
Who called
Nature of call
Comments on how you handled the call
When using the telephone remember the seven Cs of effective service:
1. Caring -- toward the customer, toward your organization, and toward yourself.
2. Confident
3. Considerate
4. Commitment
5. Creative
6. Control our emotions
Take anger professionally, not personally
7. Contagious enthusiasm
First impressions are formed within the first 10 seconds of the call. To make a good impression:

Identify who you are.

Thank them for contacting you.
Establish control of the call by asking the first question.
Be confident.
Support the organization; do not blame or bad mouth the organization.

To help build rapport with the caller:

Use their name.

Identify common people or situations.
Ask for their viewpoint.
Establish mutual goals.
Adjust your rate of speech to mirror that of the caller.
Smile before you pick up the telephone.

Hint: When the caller is emotional, listen with your left ear to stimulate the right side of the brain. If the caller is
giving lots of information, listen with your right ear.

Specific Situations and How to Handle Them

Answering the Telephone

Be sure to answer the telephone before the third ring.

Say "thank you for calling," then identify the organization and yourself.

If you need to put the caller on hold, ask the caller if that is all right and wait for an answer. Then thank
the caller for holding. When the caller is on hold, check back every 30-45 seconds. If you need to look up
some information and it will take some time, ask if you can call the person back in a certain length of
time with the information.
If you need to transfer the call, give the reason for the transfer and ask the caller if that is all right. Wait
for the answer. Before you transfer the caller, call the department or person and let them know you're
transferring the call.
This will enable you to give the caller the name of the department and/or the person to whom the caller
will be speaking. Also give the caller the telephone number and say for future reference, here is the
number. Never speak of being disconnected.
To get the caller's name, give yours. Or have the caller fill in the blank, "My name is and yours is
________________." Another way is to directly ask for the caller's name, organization, and telephone
Ask him or her, "What is the nature of the call?"

Telephone Tag
(Only one of three calls is completed the first time.)

Establish specific call back times.

Schedule telephone calling during certain times in the day.
Make an appointment for the call back.

When the Person Requested Is Not In

Say he or she is not available. Then give a time when they will be available.
Don't say the person is on vacation, on break, or at lunch. That is no one's business.

Call Screening

Say I need to know the nature of your call so that I can transfer you to the appropriate department or

When the Person Requested Does Not Return Calls

Document this every time.

Offer to call the person back for them.
Keep reassuring the caller that you are passing along the messages.
Stop feeling guilty.

Caller Wants to Speak to the Person in Charge

State that you handle the office when the person requested is absent.

Caller is Overly Inquisitive

State that you do not have that information, but that you can transfer the caller to the person who does.
Hint: On the first call, business first and small talk second.

Caller Rambles On and On

Use the caller's name and say, "I need to interrupt you so that I can transfer you to ______________.
Or, so that I can find out the exact nature of your call.

Closing the Conversation

Talk in the past tense.

Close with promises. Summarize the action you plan to take. Say thank you and good-bye.

Caller Does Not Speak English

Get the caller's name, how it is spelled and how it is pronounced.

Talk slower.
Be right up front that you want to help them, but you cannot understand. Therefore, they may need to
spell some of their words.

Angry Callers

Resolve the anger before it escalates.

Remind yourself when you hear the anger to become logical, rational, and do not take it personally.
Listen with empathy.
Summarize what you heard. Use feeling words to show you understand. You can never reason with
someone until you work through their emotions.
Aim for confirmation. Settle for clarification. Avoid correction by the caller.
Use a statement of beneficial intent like, "I'm glad you called. I think I can help you with this."
Ask if there is any other information you need to have to work on this concern.
State what you think can be done. Suggest an action that can be taken. Recommend an option. If you do
not know what to do, ask the caller what they think should be done.
Finish with exactly what you will do.

Other Suggestions

Take notes during the call. Record the date and time on your notes. Keep all your notes in one place.
When you call back and get an answering machine, do not hang up. Leave a complete message. Leave
your name and telephone number.
If the caller uses profanity, tell the caller the organizational policy, if one exists. You do not have to listen
to it. Let them know this, and if it continues, hang up the phone or walk away if the person is in the office.
If a person threatens you, say that behavior is not tolerated and you will call the police if he/she
continues. (You also may want to excuse yourself and locate another staff person.)

Here is a resource that may be useful:
Dealing With People You Can't Stand by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner. It is available in most book stores
and from McGraw-Hill, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.