Insights from the Receptionist Desk – Part 1: Communicating by Telephone

I’ve been in the admin field for a long, long time. I’ve been at my current desk for the past six years. What I’m about to tell you is no big surprise to anyone– People do not know how to communicate by telephone.

I don’t know if phone communication challenges are driven by so many people communicating via text now, or if people calling an organization are so used to NOT having a human being answer the phone — let me just say, it’s pretty disheartening.

Rather than document the myriad of astonishing calls I’ve answered, deciphered or directed, I think I’ll just share a few suggestions for getting assistance quickly when calling into a business. These suggestions are based on many years of phone answering experience.

1. Do some research to confirm that you have the correct phone number and the correct company. If you’re not sure the number is correct, it is perfectly acceptable to say to the receptionist, “I’m not certain I have the correct number, but perhaps you can help me.”

2. Always say Hello or Good morning/Good afternoon. Then follow the next three (3) steps.

  • Give your name- full name and company if you’re calling on behalf of your company. (My name is Jeff Carambe from ABECED.)
  • Ask for the person you are trying to reach (May I speak with John Lemon, please?) Or, if  you are not sure which person you need to speak with at the company,
  • Explain quickly (and we’ll cover this later) why you are calling this company– What’s your purpose? (I’d like to speak with Mr. Lemon regarding his May congressional testimony.)

This makes it very easy to provide the caller with assistance.  Any competent receptionist is going to be so grateful that you –> YOU know how to communicate when calling into a company!

At this point, the receptionist will connect you through to the line of the person you are calling. Now, suppose you immediately get voicemail Do the right thing!  Leave the same information plus your contact phone number or email on their voicemail. REPEAT your phone number twice so they don’t have to replay the message. Follow the prompt on the voicemail! Meaning if you want to speak with someone on staff, zero out to the receptionist and ask him/her if there is anyone else on staff that might be able to address Jeff Lemon’s testimony on the Hill.  Lastly, if you are on a deadline– leave that information on the message as well as letting the receptionist know.

Other suggestions

1. Don’t belittle or insult the receptionist.Being rude is rude and will not make things move faster or better, or more to your liking.
2 Don’t call from your subway ride, the library, your first-graders playground. Make the call when it is quiet and you can focus. So if you are calling while working from home, you might just want to put Fido in another room for a few minutes until you complete your call. I know you can’t always do this–but try.
3. Don’t ask the receptionist to page a staff member unless it truly is urgent.Like crazy urgent.
4. Don’t ask the receptionist for his/her opinion on an issue you are having w/a staff member, the company website, the policies of the organization or how they like the job. It’s not the receptionist’s role to speak on behalf of the organization that responsibility belongs to the Public Relations team.
5. Never hurts to say –Thank you for your assistance. Never.
6. Remember that some worker bees prefer to chunk block their calls which is why it is always a good idea to leave your contact information. This allows the staff member to return your call when they can respond uninterrupted, and you are respecting their preferred work method without even realizing it!
7. If you are nervous or it’s a complicated issue, SCRIPT your question beforehand. I used to think this advice was complete rubbish. Now I understand and respect how having your thoughts written out ahead truly smooths the way!
8. If you have left a staff member a message but have not had a return call after twenty-four hours, you’ve got a few options to get to a resolution. A)You can email the staff member and use the subject line – Please respond to my inquiry about (Fill in the Blank). B)Call the main number and ask the receptionist if that staff member is out on extended leave or ask for the contact information for another team member in the same department. C) As a last resort, request the supervisor’s contact information to nudge the resolution along.

Not all organizations believe in having a human being answer the main company phone line, but I certainly know that navigating an auto-attendant system can sometimes be more frustrating than having a call transferred several times within a company.

–> Next blog: Insights from the Receptionist Desk Part 2: Communication Challenges – Auto-Attendant Systems and Awful Receptionists

Get A Grip– On the Tools You’re Utilizing – a Nod to Brian Fanzo

I’ve been trying to catch up on some learning time this weekend. Mostly watching and listening to replays from some of the social leaders I follow.  Tonight, I just happened upon a rant-ish type post from @iSocialFanz aka Brian Fanzo addressing many issues as they relate to social media tools and best practices.  What I admire about Brian is his ability to articulate his passion for what he does in a very human and very genuine way.

But one piece of the replay caught my attention because it also applies to the administrative workplace.  Know the tools you are using. Understand their context. Mistakes happen, but they cannot all be blamed on the tools we utilize because to paraphrase Brian– the end-user is responsible for the implementation of that tool. It’s also a reminder to be deliberate as we learn. Sometimes I rush to add another social application to my phone without a)needing it  b)understanding its true function c)taking the time to learn the shortcuts and features thoroughly.

Admins use many tools to get work done, to communicate updates, to save time for their team. I’ve come to recognize (and somewhat accept) that due to the velocity of our changing field, I may have started to become a user of many tools- but master of none. Furthermore, it provoked me to think about doing some MOS (Microsoft Office Specialist) testing. How else can I demonstrate that I have a comprehension of the main tool I utilize on a daily basis.

Think about it–

As an example, many of us utilize Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, but are you fluent, do you have a deep bench of skills or just enough to get by? Good stuff to ponder.

Leadership Credentials at Work- afterthoughts from the DE-MD-DC IAAP Fall Ed Program

When it comes to the workplace, career administrative professionals deal with so many interesting challenges, priorities and personalities.  When the day is done though – many just want to hear the words, ‘Thank you’.

I’m grateful to have worked in many organizations that encourage an environment of strong mutual respect and direct communication. Yet, I hear over and over from my peers that mutual respect and acknowledgement of administrative support contribution is rarely encountered in the day-to-day work.

What’s been your experience? Have you ever pulled a co-worker aside to address this issue?  I suspect my love of what I do for a living –shows through– and leaves my co-workers with little doubt about my dedication, experience, and skills. I’m honest about what I cannot accomplish. I’ve got the worst poker face anyhow.. everyone can tell when I’m tired, frustrated, or just not 100 %.

I have to have enough self-awareness to not let my fatigue or hangry (that’s hungry +angry for those of you not familiar with the term) take over my vocal cords. I get out.. Get a walk. Get a drink of water. Maneuver my way into an earlier lunch break.

Most importantly, I pay attention to what is going on with the industry, the company I work for and the people I work alongside. I don’t need to know their personal business– but I can tell when we’re all in a time crunch.. and I can certainly recognize the face of someone that is overwhelmed.

Lately, I’ve been reading more blogs on leadership and employee engagement to help me get a better perspective.

Here are a few of my faves-

Dan Rockwell, LeadershipFreak
Alli Polin, Break the Frame
Jon Mertz, Thin Difference
Liz Ryan, Human Workplace
Lolly Daskal, LeadFromWithin — though I read her stuff almost every day!

So how do we show what we know and how competent we are.. if we are invisible as support staff to those around us? That’s the question lingering in many a competent admin’s brain cells.

I’d love to read your thoughts on this.. please do share! Thanks.

Why, Yes.. Attitude IS Everything…Why do you ask?

Just finished watching the most recent episode of America’s Next Top Model with our 10yr old daughter.
Not just the show, but her reaction to it. She wanted to know how I knew which model was going to be kicked off the show.
Let me provide some background. Ever hear of the expression- ‘Self-fulfilling prophecy’?

The gist of the episode is that one model (say model #1) does not take the career seriously and it projects- One model (model #2) is constantly (verbally) full of self-doubt. And the loser on the episode is the one model that does not take her career seriously. She literally sabotaged herself right out of the job. The #2 model is not far from getting cast off herself. Her negativity is irritating the rest of her peers and her martyr act is really trying.

Now.. take this scenario and apply it to the regular workday office environment; replace the models with admins. The number 2 admin would SO be toast. Try whining about your workload when the rest of your admin team has had their workload double in the last few months. Think they’ll have your back? Nope.

But more interesting is the model #1/admin#1 scenario. Using humor to deflect fear can be a very unintentional way of sabotaging the effort. And I relate to this because it is my own natural instinct when I am afraid of appearing “less than” that this nasty habit comes right to the forefront. I think. I hope. I pray I did not misuse my humor today during the interview.

Humor is dangerous in the workplace.. we must use it very wisely and appropriately…or else we risk being perceived as not taking the job/the interview/the person sitting across from us seriously- and it can be perceived as disrespectful even though that is not the intention.

Today’s episode: A job interview. Two directors and two team support staff members. One large glass walled conference room. Two and one-half hours later… No kidding.

I took the opportunity in the interview to point out that career admins serve a larger purpose than appointment booking and making travel arrangements- we have the opportunity to streamline tasks and projects because we have centralized perspective! We can see the whole pie/enchilada/turkey ( Make your own food reference here.). If we are paying attention to detail (which is kind of our entire raison d’etre if you were)- we can contribute by connecting our teammates communications, and directing the flow of priorities to make the workflow smoother.

Attitudes are contagious. Being positive is great. I love the expression I heard in this Kirk Franklin and the Family song (which I’m sure he is not the originator of this phrase..) ” If you believe it- You can achieve it.”

Can I get an Amen?

Leaders.. by Example

Life is all about learning. Some lessons are not so hard. Some lessons..sock it to you.

I am constantly amazed at how maturity comes in to play as I approach learning new skills and take on new responsbilities. And, I mean.. there are two kinds of maturity, right?

One being “Mature” by age.. and the other ..what I label.. emotional maturity.

Now.. I have the first definition of Mature down. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my years. Rather, I’m grateful. They have helped shape .. my Emotional Maturity.

How does this relate to being a Paid, Professional, Nudge?

Early on in my career.. I had no cares.. whatsoever on how my work impacted others around me. I was solely focused on looking good and making sure the boss was ok. I didn’t care about whose feelings I hurt or how my attitude impacted those around me.

I also was not as punctual, honest nor as hard-working. I felt the work world was my oyster. and who the hell cared?.. as long as everyone liked me…… It didn’t take long for that shine to wear right off!

One of the best pieces of advice my first female boss gave me was to cut back on my coffee intake. Now.. some of my friends and colleagues now would say that I never headed that advice. They are mistaken.
But, it wasn’t what she said.. It was the delivery. It was her workplace approach and sage maturity that made me (all 23 years old) stop and think. Hmmmm. She might have something there. And, she most certainly did.

Her advice, her approach to her staff and her dress all were SO professional and the utmost in professional. She didn’t take sides with staff (all women.. poor lady!) and she never corrected you in front of peers. Instead, she would pull staff into her office and very clearly without rancor– approach the subject of whatever area that required improvement or a different approach. Her patience with Junior staff was amazing. When I reflect back on it now.. I realize just how much I learned.. purely by her example. And..I’m surprised she put up with me!

Several months ago.. she retired from the same institution that I had once worked at in Baltimore. I called her not long before her retirement and we chatted about how much our lives had changed. I had stayed in touch with her for more than a decade.

Now, I am in a leadership role. I realize how important it is for me to set the example. To communicate appropriately and patiently… to really demonstrate the key facets of professionalism in dress, behaviour, work product, punctuality and courtesy.. and respect.

By no means am I considered a stodgy type (except to my kid!).. but my ” Maturity” has allowed me to see the value of my age and workforce experience… to put things in perspective and help me try to be a respectable leader.. by Example.

And something we all can continue to learn and share with our peers.

What Exactly is Consistency?

The last several days in the workplace have been a challenge. I’m still trying to sort out if the challenge is to my ego, my perspective or a reality-check of my years of experience in the workplace.

The best way I can describe it is to relate it to comments sometimes heard in a performance review. “I wish you would be more consistent with your work product.”

Ever heard that? I have, though not recently.

What is consistency anyhow? Is it always being on time? Is it not repeating mistakes? Is consistency measured directly in proportion to your supervisor’s mood? Are we (admins) allowed to ask our supervisors for more consistency?

Here is how I decided to define consistency for myself- when it comes to work production.

1. I am on-time.
2. I communicate early and often on the status of my workload and provide updates to my supervisor if I have any concerns about work priorities.
3.My work attire is always business appropriate.
4. I proof my work and generally ask another peer to review if time permits.
5. My signature block is consistent on my email, as are the fonts and margins from one electronic message to the next. There are no smile characters for business related communications.
6. I will step in to cover reception or any other slot as needed. I am a PAID administrative professional- this means – taking on administrative tasks with authority and with a professional attitude. There are no shows of petulance;making coffee, copies or going to the street vendor to purchase a Red Bull for my supervisor is not a task I refuse.

Life is good. Being employed is great. Being a contributing member of society and an involved parent is even better. Being consistently positive.. is the most important piece of my workday.

Bite thy Tongue.. Feisty Admin!

Well, it’s late at night. A long two days of work after the bosses return from two weeks out of office. More staffing changes and I must be on guard.

There is a saying.. stay close to the Devil you know. Well, crap. I don’t know any of these people I’m working with…. and pretty much certain that they don’t give a rat’s ass about me and my work…. Which is why I pulled my personal commentary separate from my Chapter’s stuff.

Here’s the scenario… working with a new supervisor, don’t really know their peeves, not really sure of best methods to communicate.. and NO direction or parameters. So this is what prompts the Bite Thy Tongue rant. .. [Though, come to think of it.. this blog may in fact, be just be defeating that intent!]

Somedays I feel too damn old to be teaching other dogs new tricks… and I know you feel me on this one.. Alas, I contemplated all day quietly- the advantage of us seasoned veterans of the admin universe.

I, in fact, withhold info about personal trials, tribulations and body functions while in the office.. How do I encourage others to follow suit in this scenario…when so very few boundaries are acknowledged, much less respected…..Ah,this is the best I can do today.. and these next 10 days as I count down to VACATION!…

I say to myself, “Self, Bite Thy Tongue- Feisty Admin!” It is the finest way to remain respectable.(and, probably–employed!)