There is a need, a desperate need in America for training in basic phone skills, both in answering and leaving messages.

This should not be left to an employer to train you. These should be fundamental skills. Skills you can develop yourself by taking five minutes and applying some critical thinking.

And yet, day after day, I am presented with people that can’t answer a phone or leave a message to save their ass.

For those that might get a link to read some twit rant about phone messages, I was in the US Marines, and I like to tell old sea stories.

I’ll never forget the first time I drew guard mount duty where there was a phone involved.

I was provided phone training. A 5 minute, high speed low drag “what you will and will not do on the phone while representing the unit” training session.

Why?

Because I was a rock, a pebble, what we call a noob today, and I could not be trusted to just automatically know how to answer a phone in a proper military manner, or know how to leave a message.

I was now going to have the weighty responsibility of answering that phone, representing the unit to anyone, anyone at all from the outside world, that may want to call in.

The President of the United States or the Commandant of the Marine Corps may take it into their head to call the guard desk at MACS-5 just to screw with a Lance Corporal, and you’d damn well better not answer the official phone, “Yeah?”.

It was incumbent upon me to perform my duties in a professional manner.

Thus, my Sergeant instructed me for 5 minutes on how to answer a damn phone.

I have never forgotten my surprise at the forethought involved. I’d already gotten so used to everyone in the civilian world assuming everyone else knows everything and leaving you floundering, that I never expected something as simple as answering a phone to have a procedure… or that someone gave some thought to the fact that a new employee/person would be uncertain what to do exactly or how to do it, want to have that task done in a certai way, and addressed it.

It was just another of a thousand things in the Marines that reinforced the concept that prior proper planning and thinking about the smallest details when you have the luxury of time help to avoid stupid mistakes.

I was taught that even somethign as simple as answering the phone could be approached in a professional manner.

“Identify professional location you have reached, identify yourself with rank and last name, identify your current duty role, ask how you can be of service.”

For example, answering the phone with “Marine Air Control Squadron 5 Guard Mount, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, Sgt Patricelli speaking, how may I help you today sir or ma’am?”

Or, closer to home, “Humpty Dumpty Crane and Hoist, this is John Patricelli, how can I help you?”

You tell the caller what company they have reached and who they are speaking with. You’re polite. And you’re as brief as humanly possible. It’s called being professional, and it’s about as basic as you can get.

If I call someone, before I start talking to them, I need to know I’ve reached the right person, the person I hope can help me or is the right person to hear my spiel. If I get the receptionist, and I need to order a part, then I can ask for someone in parts ordering.

If I call the police department to report a theft, what I don’t expect to hear is someone answering the phone with “Yeah? Wassup dude?”

“Umm…is this the police department?”

“Yeah, whattaya got bud?”

Just, no. Really? No.

If you ever call a company looking for goods or services, and you have to ask them if you reached such-and-so company because the person who answered sounds like a stoner that answered his home phone, then they answered the phone wrong or half-assed.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve called a sales or services number, and gotten “Yeah?” as the whole and total reply.

Yeah? Shit, I don’t even answer internal calls from extensions in the company with “Yeah”, let alone outside lines. And if you can’t tell if a call is coming in from an outside line or from some schmuck that works in your shipping department, play it safe by being professional every time you answer the phone instead of never.

But this, this is not even close to being as bad as how people leave messages.

There is a reason Elune cries. Bad phone messages cause the tears of Elune to flow.

Here is a message I had left on my phone this morning, and I’m not even making this shit up;

“Hey, this is Doug, the parts don’t fit, they’re not the right size. Give me a call after seven.”

WTF?

Part of what I do is handle repair parts sales and field service for cranes and hoists all over Minnesota. Literally thousands of customers.

I can think of nine Dougs right off the top of my head who are frequent customers for crane and hoist parts, most of whom I’ve already talked to this week, and I sell of customer specified parts, and even more people go through the city desk for parts orders.

Doug? Who the fuck is Doug? What company are you with? What’s your phone number to call you back? When were they ordered? Who makes the part? What was your PO#? What was the part number you ordered?

ANY ONE of those things would have given me a corner to peel back to get at the rest of this, let me identify the most likely customer, and return his call. Any one of them.

You’d almost think he put effort into giving me as little information as possible just to fuck with me.

But I know he didn’t… because I get this shit ALL THE TIME. Most of those Dougs are all liable to leave the same kind of message, I can’t even narrow it down by “the Doug that leaves bad messages.”

“Hey, this is Joe, our shop crane got hit by a forklift last night, I need you to send a service guy out first thing in the morning, has to be here by 5 AM.”

Joe? Joe WHO, motherfucker? Are you shitting me? What company are you with? What is your number? What address? Are you even a customer with us?

I’m not kidding. That’s another message I had waiting for me this morning.

I mean, how hard is it, even without training, to spend a few seconds of your time thinking over what information might just be needed so someone can get in touch with you?

“Hi, this is Joe Guyabara, Lord of the Shirts. I’m the Head Shirt Guy at Totally Awesome Shirts, Ltd in Towering Manhood, Minnesota. We have a hoist what just blew up and is raining fiery debris all over our sewing machines. I need you to send a service tech asap to our west Towering Manhood address, and give me a call when he’s expected to be here. my number is 555-1369.”

Who are you, who are you representing (if anyone), where are you, what do you need, and how can I reach your sorry ass so you know that I got your message and am responding?

Is that really so difficult?

And yet… yes. Yes it is.

Please, if you are a young gamer still in school, if you have yet to enter the professional workplace, PLEASE, I beg of you, spend just three minutes to think about how you’d answer a phone or leave a message when you are representing a company, or yourself as a business professional.

You don’t have to be a coldly corporate as a DirecTV or Comcast service rep on the phone, boredly reading responses off a cue card. You can liven it up a teeny bit, inject your personality into it, you just need to be able to clearly identify yourself or what you need, with some consideration given to providing the basic info someone on the other end needs to help you.

Think about it. If you’ve got your resume out there, and you’re hoping to get a phone call from some Human Resources person, are you really going to impress anyone by answering your phone, “Mario’s Plumbing and Repairs, head mushroom bouncer speaking, hey dude, whats up?”

That I even feel like I have to say something about this just depresses the shit out of me.

32 Responses to “A Professional Training Opportunity”
  1. Xew says:

    I feel your pain. I work in Accounts Payable – I’m not the only one in my particular department, but the receptionist either hates me or doesn’t think anyone else can field phone calls – I get them all.

    When I get messages like you’re describing, I don’t even bother with them. If the person needs the information badly enough, they’ll call back – hopefully during regular work hours when I can address their needs. But if not, hopefully they provide additional information that I can use to track them down.

    The goblins got it right: “Time is money, friend” My time is more valuable than trying to figure out which Doug from which podunk company is calling.

    Back in 7th Grade, we had a 3 week course in ‘adult grooming skills’ (I’m sure it was actually called something cooler than that, but since I can’t remember the actual name, and that is essentially what we learned, I’ll stick with that). We learned how to write out checks, how to create a resume, how to conduct and be interviewed, how to answer the door, how to answer the phone, how to take proper notes… it was one of those classes where as an adult, you wished you’d paid more attention to. I doubt there’s anything like it being taught now. At least as far as I can tell from any new hires who are in their early 20s – none of them seem to have any professional skills at all. There emails read like Facebook posts, their phone etiquette is horrible and their work ethic leaves something to be desired.

    But, I’m sure the same was thought by my elders as I was coming into the work force.

    Truly sucks getting old.

  2. bigbearbutt says:

    Ah, a follow up!

    I had another call from Doug!

    He assumed I’d recognize his voice.

    Turns out the latch kits he ordered weren’t the right size?

    Well, what serial number of hoist did you order them on. ‘Oh, this 1 ton, but these came in small, they’d fit one of the other 1 tons, not this 1 ton, this 1 ton is the same size as our 2 tons.”

    Well, I haven’t looked up your order yet, but tell me a serial number of a 2 ton that is the same size so I can make sure I order based off the right info.

    “Oh, ti’s the same as a unit you’re repairing somewhere.”

    …..

    So, you’ve got a problem with parts you’ve received being the wrong size because you didn’t give me the right serial number last time, and you want the right ones, but you still can’t be bothered to give me a serial number. Fine, I’ll go see if we’ve got a hoist still being repaired. You want it, you’ll get it.

    Wait a minute, i just looked at my to do list for today, I’m supposed to follow up with him on a quote I sent a week ago for latch kits. Follow up because he never ordered them! What the fu..?

    Holy shit! There is no record in our system that any order was ever placed! Where the fuck did he get latch kits from?

    “Hey Doug, where did those latch kits come from? I’ve got no record you ever actually ordered any or responded to my quote.”

    “Oh yeah, one of the guys said they didn’t come from the usual store, i dunno man.”

    Are you kidding me? He called to complain about parts he didn’t even ORDER FROM ME IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    Oh, and MY quote actually DID specify the right latch kits. Guess we know why you found a cheaper price somewhere else, huh?

    • Xew says:

      O.M.G.

      I’d go postal. I’m glad when we get mixups, the vendors never went so far as to say ‘well, can you pay for that anyway?’

      Much <3 for having to deal with that level of stupidity.

  3. Avi says:

    Ahhh yes! One of my biggest pet peeves. I love when I get messages here at work that say “I missed a delivery today and I really want my package, call me ASAP.” Well hey, I would *love* to – just let me call every single one of the 1000+ deliveries yesterday and try to track you down. My voicemail recording is very specific in the information I require to call you back for a reason.
    I’ve been in some sort of reception/customer service/etc field for over 10 years, and have noticed the same sort of general lack that you’re talking about here… Phone skills, people – they count for a lot!

  4. Jack says:

    Totally pointing my kids this way, ’cause Lord knows they don’t listen to Dad. I can’t even count how many times I’ve told them how to correctly answer a phone and yet I still call home and get, “Hello”. Maybe hearing it from someone else, using a little humor, will get it to stick.

  5. Voltigeuse says:

    I work in sales in the UK and so am constantly calling customers and my biggest pet hate is the surly uncommunicative people who answer the phone and when asked for one of their colleagues respond with the helpful comment:

    ‘He/she is not here’

    No more info just a hostile silence. For all they know I could be calling to beg them for the goods and services they provide for a living.

  6. Bristal says:

    Thanks for the rant. I’m a clinical pharmacist in a hospital. You’d be floored by how many times I find sticky notes on my desk that say “need pills for Mr. Smith ASAP.”

    /rant I have a cell phone AND a pager AND 2 varieties of email. There are 3 Smiths in the hospital. No idea who wrote the note. I spend 10 valuable minutes trying to find the nurse. She apparently left the note just before her shift ended. Ten more minutes and I find a pharmacy tech who says he just delivered meds to a Mr. Smith, and there’s a haughty tone in his voice.

    Invariably it turns out that the nurse and pharmacy tech exchanged terse words/don’t like each other/are divorced/she’s lazy and or stupid/oh huh he never answers the phone…and on and on.

    Unprofessional behavior always goes deeper than just lack of training. It’s passive aggressive tit for tat one upsmanship that thrives in a litigious society where supervisors have to document every conversation and speak like lawyers in conflict resolution. Oh, and don’t forget the Union rep that has to be there but is on vacay so we’ll schedule it for next month.

    If only we were all US Marines. /unrant

  7. Kirk says:

    I blame the CEO culture. You see it on TV and movies, and it’s got a strong basis in fact in my experience. The BOSS answers, “yes?” or “what?”

    I regret to say it’s in the military too. I expressed similar annoyance after I’d had to call some senior officers. A colonel who overheard me said (close paraphrase), “If you know that number or you’ve been transferred to it, you either already know who’s answering or you’re wasting their time.”

    He was wrong – I’ve spent more than a few phone call sequences being bounced through people while trying to get answers. But it is the attitude.

    “If you’re calling me you already know who it is. Skip the time-wasting crap of telling me who this is and get to the issue at hand.”

    Everyone wants to copy the boss. So his (or her) way of answering filters down. In the places where the bottom is required to do the identification response, getting away with it means you too are a boss.

  8. Mannyac says:

    Hey call me about that thing we were supposed to do to at that place later on. Thanks.

  9. Alq says:

    Excellent post – and one which should be made obligatory reading for everyone who ever picks up a phone!

    I’ve worked on the phones in a variety of jobs, including a call centre, in which I had a VERY scripted manner, and we were assessed on it monthly by our supervisors, including playback of recorded conversations. It’s basic common sense, but as we know, common sense isn’t what it says on the packet, i.e. common. I’ve often worked at extracting info out of the person on the other end of the phone at times, and sometimes it’s like drawing blood from a stone.

    I’d also like to add one thing to this basic training. Assume responsibility. PLEASE! I have seen people being passed from pillar to post, and become increasingly irate by the time the buck has been passed the nth time, completely losing it because they have to explain the issue yet again, and flipping out at the poor person at the end of the phone who will happily bend over backwards to help them. It’s not fair on the person calling, or the person taking the call. And it’s far more efficient in the long run.

  10. twww says:

    I emphatically agree!

    Now I just need to figure out how to anonymously slip this to our “receptionist” ……..

  11. Herr Drache says:

    Oh Bear, how I understand…
    As for home/personal calls, yes, I do answer the phone with “hello”. I grew up in Germany, where proper phone etiquette is to answer “Hello, this is Joe Doe!”, you *will* include the last name, but I honestly prefer the US version of “Hello!”. You’re calling me. I presume you do this because either you’ve looked me up in the phone book (my last name is unique. There are two people with it in this state, one’s my wife.) or you had me on your smart/speed dial phone, or you misdialed. If you misdialed, you don’t really need to know my name. If you didn’t, then you already know. OK, I might be paranoid.
    That especially does apply to telemarketers/survey-takers/robo-callers. You called me, surely you know not only my number but also my name. Oh, you don’t? Shoo off, then!

    But yes, in a professional environment? “ACME Corp Support Desk, this is Jim, how can I help you?” On the other hand, if you work at something that’s a chapter long, please slow down just a little. “Marineaircontrolsquadron5guardmountmarinecorpsairstationbeaufortsouthcarolinathislineisnotsecuresgtpatricellispeakinghowmayihelpyoutoday sir or ma’am?”
    “What?!?!”

    And please, if you leave me a message, don’t rattle your callback number off like an auctioneer on coke.

    And don’t look at me all weird when I don’t interrupt dinner or a movie to pick up the phone. I pay money for voice mail! Family dinner > phone. Even Price-Waterhouse will call back, I’m sure!

  12. Zwingli says:

    Took a call at work today. Right before I picked up the phone, I remembered BBB’s article here!

    Good one!

    Z

  13. Faye says:

    At one of my jobs, I do a lot of phone answering. I’m constantly shocked by the behavior of people who are calling there too, and have often said that people need lessons on how to properly call a business. The amount of people who call while having a conversation with someone else, leading me to say my polite greeting to them multiple times while they’re screaming about something to someone else on the other end is astounding. Then there are the people who seem to call from the noisiest location possible, and then get pissed at me when I can’t hear what they’re saying. I had a woman call from what sounded like a church one day, and I honestly could not understand what she was saying over the music in the background. And then she started flipping out at me when I told her that Ma’am, I’m very sorry but I’m having a difficult time hearing you. Cursing me out. From a church.

    I hate phones. Sometimes I think that using them just causes people’s IQs, or at least social sensibilities, to drop by at least half.

    • Beshara says:

      I get this type of thing all the time at work. So many people call in with babies crying, while they are carrying on a conversation with someone else, etc. it also drives me nuts when you do answer the phone with your name and department, and right away the caller asks if they reached a different department. They don’t listen when someone does answer the phone correctly. There’s also the people that call in for information that don’t ask for it, you have to ask them questions to find out what information they are looking for. It’s a trial of patience somedays.

      • bigbearbutt says:

        I get that all the time.

        I answer the phone, “John Patricelli, Super awesome better than the others crane and hoist, how can I help you?”, and the VERY FIRST WORDS I hear are, “Yes, is John Patricelli there?”

        “….Yes. As I said when I answered the phone, this is John Patricelli. How can I help you.”

        Had one of those today, too.

  14. Xlade says:

    Oh LOL. And LOL again!
    My PARENTS wouldn’t let me answer the phone until they’d taught me how to answer it. Back before called ID and everyone and their brother having an answering machine. I’ve worked with a number of people (in reservation centers for tourism, as a Verizon sales rep, and even now where I don’t have to answer outside calls very often) who don’t seem to know the speaker from the mike end of a phone. I’ve had women old enough to be my mother look at me when the phone rings and go “What do I say?”

    /headesk

    The world is doomed you know.

  15. freddyboomboom says:

    This is no sh*t.

    I had a Chief Petty Officer (E7) that would hang up on me when I’d answer the phone…

    He thought I dragged it out too far.

    He wanted me to shorten “Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 131 (The Lancers!), Avionics/Armament Division, Avionics Workcenter, Petty Officer Prince speaking, this is a non-secure line subject to monitoring, may I help you Sir or Ma’am?” to “VAQ-131, Avionics, Petty Officer Prince, may I help you Sir or Ma’am?”

    I liked my version better so I’d successfully argue that I was answering properly. :)

    After a couple of times hanging up, he’d usually get off his behind and walk across the hall to our shop.

    Petty: small and insignificant, of little or no value.

  16. solitha says:

    The equal and opposite problem of answering a phone correctly… the person calling has to actually LISTEN. An example:

    “Podunk Police, Solitha.”

    “……. hello.”

    “Podunk Police, Solitha, can I help you?”

    “What?”

    “Podunk Police, Solitha, can I help you?”

    “…… is this the Sillyville Police?”

    /facepalm

  17. Erex says:

    When I was a teenager I always answered with my first name. Then I joined the military and started to use my rank and last name. When I was one a duty phone I also included my unit. Then I was transferred international and got a ‘secret’ phone. Due to me working with a lot of nationality spread out over a lot of ranks, both civilans and military, I started to just use my firstname again (my lastname are very difficult even for a Norwegian). Of course since it was a ‘secret’ phone, no unit or rank.
    So once I travelled to Norfolk they couldn’t find my name on the entry list. Turned out I was registered as Rank Firstname :-)

    Now a days I call clients all over the world. They open up a support issue with us and if the first line cannot handle it, I will call the contact number. Thinking back the tree last weeks, the only response I have had is ‘hello’ (or the equivalent in their native tongue). And we are here talking about big companies where the phonenumber is normally to their technical depatrment.

    Whenever we get new hire, we do actually go through some phone training

    Cheers Erex

  18. Bearly Deene says:

    A f’in men…. Being ex-military myself, I to remember the spiel the first time I stood watch where I would have to interact on the phone. Nice rant, and well thought out and written as usual!

  19. Shadric says:

    I agree so much with this. I work very hard when training the staff that work for me to be courtious, professional, and to atleast sound semi-intelligent when interacting with people. The odd (funny?) part about it is I think at first they think I am treating them like children, then when faced with the situation they recognize they needed to be told what to do.

    It’s the “I know everything and so should you because its common sense” mentality of managers and supervisors that cause them not to train staff. Which I think is ironic because in the end its creating more work for themselves.

    I am glad I checked on you today Mr.Butt it has put somethings in my head into prospective and for that I say thank you good sir

  20. Mataoka Shaman says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how many things have been lost in the flood of basic life skills…are we all truly going Idiocracy?

  21. Phelps says:

    One more thing on leaving a message. Leave your number at the start and the end. That way if the person getting the message misses getting your number down, they don’t have to wait through the entire message again to write down your number.

  22. Pawzy says:

    Wow. I’m feeling old. When I took Home Econ. class in 7th grade, we DID have a day where we had to practice leaving and taking phone messages. :S

  23. Delmonico says:

    I have my work phone answering cadence so ingrained in my head that I have trouble dropping it when I am home. A few times my wife has asked me “Wait, did I call your office? Why are you still at work?” after I answer her call at home.

    • Delmonico says:

      And that leave your number first and last is some of the best advice for message leaving I could give someone.

  24. kattrinsaa says:

    i did hear a story one time about the Olympic skier Peekaboo street. It seems miss street was volunteering at a hospital, but they decided not to let her answer the phones in the intensive care unit after she answered the phone with a “peekaboo ICU.”

  25. Mabaho says:

    I remember similar in our basic training too. They even had a phone simulator with the staff testing us! And make sure you log everything :)

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