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Calling back to another era

ErnestineI was on a plane the other day and discussing today’s generation of workers with the person next to me. Of course, that could mean a variety of things and although I am fascinated with generational differences, one of the most obvious is technology and how we use it.

For example, I have had the most difficult time training employees on how to answer the telephone and take a message. If this were just one employee, I wouldn’t think much of it. But time and time again, my employees between the ages of 18 and 26 are not sure how to take a proper message. I have them memorize the line, “Hi, thank you for calling Vircity, ____ speaking, how may I help you?” – and that works for the most part. (I had one employee who could never get it right.) I got all variations from “Hi, Vircity, how can I help you” to simply “Vircity.” But taking a message? The majority just can’t seem to grasp the concept of a proper message.

A few years ago, I tasked an employee with calling a list of people for one of our clients, reminding them they had meeting with our client later in the week. The script was written out and for the most part, I knew my employee would end up with voice mails. This employee, who was 24 years old at the time, finished the task and came back to thank me. She thanked me for having her make telephone calls because she never spoke on the phone and was scared to do so. She told me this exercise helped her get over her fear of conversation with others. She had a cell phone, but only used it for texting. Oh boy. Where are we headed?

If I think back about how I was trained, gasp! Before there was caller ID and voicemail, I actually had a script my parents drilled into my head as to how to answer the phone and take a message. Conjure up the image of “Leave It To Beaver” and their telephone manners. . . and dare I say what happened if I forgot to take down the telephone number or the person’s first AND last name?

Today’s younger generation has grown up with technology, hence a telephone with caller ID and no need to take a message. I called a band the other day to hire them for an event. I ended up with a teenager who said they were not home and to call back to leave a message. The telephone etiquette of years past seems to have been lost. Who would have thought that we would need to work with young people on how to answer the telephone and have the confidence to pick up that receiver and put it to their ear?

So, whose responsibility is it to teach this etiquette and confidence? Even with a retail storefront, the telephone is still an important part of my business and, therefore, the training has to happen with me. As a first step, I’ve instituted a program that deals primarily with the telephone. We go through various scenarios and how to answer questions from customers, how to politely ask them to hold and how to answer multiple lines at the same time. Then we go through how to take a proper message. I found that, believe it or not, the old-school little pink message pad works very well for training how to take messages.

And then I confuse them and ask them to email me all messages.