Playing Telephone

29 Jul

A large part of my workday consists of answering phones.

Now, I don’t mind phones.  I usually have to take a second to organize my brain before I pick up the receiver, and I often get a little flustered when I am asked questions I can’t answer or when folks get uppity, but on the whole the telephone and I are friends.

The people on the phone, however, are a little less easy to deal with.  The vast majority of them mean well, I know that, but I can’t get past their habits, the niggling little things that make them impossible to understand.

And so, Internet, I have written this guide for you, so that you may be the Informed Few, and so that you can live your lives in ways that make receptionists happy to do their jobs.

1.  Speak a bit slowly.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to halve your speaking rate, or even quarter it.  We are not morons, we happy few at the other end of the telephone line.  Most people do not realize how quickly they talk, though, and they don’t consider how much communication comes through their body language or just the shapes their mouths make while forming the letters.  When we’re denied these aides, it becomes very difficult to tell what the heck is being said, and so a little extra care is required to clarify your intentions.  On that note, please…

2.  Speak extra clearly.

Dot your i’s.  Cross your t’s.  Make sure your consonants are consonants, your vowels are vowels, and that your words have endings to them.  I have had a number of callers who ask questions like, “Uh, helluhhhh,  ineh tuhnuh the prielisdin onduh ellud hum?”  I am sorry, Sally-Ann-Caller, but I do not speak lazytalk, and while I would love to answer your question, I’m going to need a bit of help.  Without the differences between t’s and d’s, without the noble ‘g’ gracing the end of an ‘ing’, we receptionists won’t be able to complete your call as dialed.

3.  Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a face-to-face interaction.

This should be self-explanatory, consider, dear friends.  You are all nice, polite, well mannered people.  You would never walk away from somebody while they were speaking, would you? You wouldn’t look them straight in the eye and ignore a ‘how are you’ or leave without thanking them for their help, would you?  Of course you wouldn’t, and you shouldn’t do any of those things on the telephone either.  Treat the receptionist as though you were standing next to them, as though they could see you, as though they might remember your face next time you approached them.  Treat them as though they might tell their friends about you over cocktails, when the drudgery of their work day is over and they can kick back and vent about the jerks that ruined their day.

4.  Remember who is in charge.

In many situations, the person that answers your phone isn’t the person that’s responsible for yoru troubles.  If they are good at their job and have a shred of humanity, they will do their very best to help you out, but yelling at the receptionist?  This is like kicking a puppy because your car broke down or breaking your kid’s toys because your shoes are too tight that day.  A receptionist is a human being, and you have the power to make or break their day.  A friendly ‘thank you so much!’ or even returning the traditional ‘good morning’ greeting can set the tone for all of their interactions, and doesn’t it feel nice to have that potential?  Go ahead.  Be nice to the receptionist, and earn a feather for your angel wings.

I know, I know, I’ve given you a lot to think about on your next phone call.  Many of these are second nature to the Well-Mannered Individual, but we all need reminders now and again to keep our noses clean.  I hope this helps.


Posted by on July 29, 2009 in Life


Tags: , ,

10 responses to “Playing Telephone

  1. Lauren From Texas

    July 29, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    i think this would be helpful in any situation. haha. Thanks for the guide. 🙂 You should get it published!!

    • saturdayjane

      July 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm

      Hee hee! I’ll work on that. Thanks, Lauren!

  2. Kitty

    July 30, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Funny Stuff. Although it works both ways. How many times have you called a customer service line only to find that the person on the other end of the line doesn’t actually speak English?

    • saturdayjane

      July 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm

      Augh, it’s true. I HAVE talked to some obnoxious receptionists/customer service people in my time. Possibly I should write a guide FOR receptionists!

  3. Vanessa

    July 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    These tips really make me want to write about going-out-to-eat-etiquette. 3 and 4 definitely apply. “I’LL HAVE A COSMO” is not a correct answer to “how are you doing tonight?”

    • saturdayjane

      July 30, 2009 at 6:02 pm

      Oh, you SHOULD write one! I would definitely read it! And I could use the advice.

  4. Julia

    July 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    One of the things I hated most about being a receptionist is closely tied to #4. I hate obnoxious, angry, whingeing people who enjoy yelling at whoever will listen, particularly receptionists who, theoretically, are professionally obligated to listen to them. You know what I hate more than those people? The fact that, as receptionists, we were trained that our company had a “no refund” policy, and therefore, the nice people who complained quietly and politely to us about this-and-this? Couldn’t do a damned thing to help them. The angry, obnoxious people? If people kicked up enough fuss, we were trained to send them to the higher ups, who would usually give them a refund despite the “no refund” policy. Siiiiiiiiiigh. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, man. Where’s the karma in that?

    So I guess the moral of the story is to always be nice to the receptionist, but to insist on the management hearing your complaints and being firm/angry with the people who are actually responsible for your trouble.

    • saturdayjane

      July 30, 2009 at 6:05 pm

      Polite but insistent people are my favorite. I like to work with them. It IS frustrating that he yelly people get more help, though.

      I never knew you were a receptionist! I would have called you! 😀

      • Julia

        August 3, 2009 at 5:29 pm

        Hee hee. I was a reservationist for a riverboat company for one summer. It involved memorising the exact cruise schedule, itinerary, food options, and pricing for 5 different boats operating like 20 different cruises, all to different places on different days of the week. Augh! And most of the time people would just call and say, “So, I hear you have cruises…?” and make me list off every one, then list off all the ones in Portland again, then only the ones in Portland on a Saturday again… etc, etc. ::siiiiiiiigh::

        Although I do occasionally look back on that job fondly when I am drenched to the bone in a freezing downpour, crawling on my hands and knees through various seal bodily fluids…

  5. Jenny

    September 13, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I have one to add, although it’s not particularly related to people only dealing with receptionists.

    Dear people of the world:

    If you are calling a business with a question, please think your question through before you ask it. If a person picks up, asking the question “What time are you open today?” makes far more sense than “Are you open today?” No. I came in just to answer the phone because I knew you were going to call.

    Although in that vein, I’m convinced our populace is getting stupider. In the past month we have had no fewer than 10 people walk in to the store (at different times), look around and ask, “Are you open?” People, if we were closed, the door would be locked. You are not a ghost. You cannot walk through locked doors. We didn’t forget to lock the doors. Of course we’re open! 🙂


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