Friday, October 28, 2011

SOP Friday: Phone Etiquette and Procedures

Let me start with a disclaimer: I used to be addicted to the telephone. Now I rarely use it except to record podcasts. At the same time, many clients love the telephone. For some reason, it makes them feel like they're getting speedy service, even when entering a service ticket is always a faster way to get service (See Clients Who Abuse the Phones and How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System?).

Nevertheless . . .

People will call your business. Clients, vendors, strangers, sales people, etc. Very often, you know who's calling because of Caller ID, but not always. Most of these rules apply whether you know the caller or not. There's one exception, and it's spelled out.

The most important rule about phones is related to one of the most important rules about running your business: Don't be interrupt-driven. Focus on the job in front of you.

Most people consider it rude to turn away from someone while in a conversation and give all your attention to someone else. But somehow we think it's okay to do this when the phone rings.

No matter what you're doing, your attention should be there. You should not stop doing something just because the phone rings. Focus on the thing you're doing. Do it well. Let the system work. When you're done with the job in front of you, then use the system to see what the next most important thing is.

(On focus, please see Relax Focus Succeed by me, and The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield.)

So we have rules about phone usage. Many of them assume that you have accepted the Standard Operating Procedure of not allowing yourself and your employees to be interrupt-driven. Remember, the goal of these SOPs is to make your business work better. That means making more money, providing better service, and making your clients happier.

As always, adjust for your own business practices.

Note: The remainder of this discussion assumes that we are talking about a managed service business and NOT a "help desk." If you have a help desk, it is intended to respond to interruptions. I would argue that your help desk should work exactly the same, except that you would guarantee that a human answers the phone. Once a ticket is created, you would simply channel "help desk" calls into the help desk queue.

As you will see, these rules are deeply integrated into the other SOPs of your business. These include client communications, time management,

- General Rules -

- Telephones are answered by the office manager (a non-technical person).
- If the office manager is not available, the service manager or service coordinator answers the phone.
- Technicians do not answer any phones at any time unless it is one of your co-workers or it is identifiable as being directly related to the Service Request or Activity you are working on at the time

- Whoever answers the phone may:
1. Create a new service request
2. Update a new service request
3. Transfer the phone to the service manager, if appropriate
4. Transfer the phone to voice mail, if appropriate

The most common result will be that a new service ticket will be created, or that an existing service ticket will be updated with notes. I point that out because interrupting technicians is NOT a common event.

- If no one is available to answer the phone, the call is routed to the Service Manager or Service Coordinator's phone. If that is not answered, it rolls to voicemail. As a result, that person will need to check voicemail on a regular basis.

- Personal phone calls are made during break times and if necessary in between service calls. They should not be made in the middle of billable time.
- Always set phones to the lowest audible setting (or vibrate) when in any office, including at our own
- Do not answer your desk or cell phone when you are in a meeting or giving someone else your attention
- Try to check voice mail every other hour on the hour for best response time. A simple rule is every odd hour of the day. This allows for a check after lunch and as one of the last things in the day.
- No personal phone calls while on clients site ever!
- DO NOT give out personal cell phone numbers
- Clients should always call your primary phone number for technical support

- Resetting the Interrupt -

It is a fact that, at one time or another, you will find yourself on the phone with a client who needs attention but you cannot give it to them for one reason or another. The acceptable phrases to memorize and use are:
- "I’m going to help you get a Service Request put into the system so that the service manager can get it prioritized and get someone on it as soon as possible."
- "Even though you have reached me directly I am currently on another task / working with another client and can’t change my focus. I’m going to help you . . ." (see text above)

- Voice Mail -

Your desk phones and cell phones should have a standardized message and guide people to follow your company processes for fastest support.

Here's a sample to get you started:
“Hello. You have reached the voice mail for Joe Technician. Please leave me a detailed message and I will return your call as soon as possible. If this is an urgent issue, please call the xxx-xxxx extension 1 for the Service Manager."

- Implementation Notes -

There's a lot here.

Implementing these phone rules consists of a few simple steps:

1) Define your rules. Write then down and document them.

2) Train your staff. Give them written copies of these procedures.

3) Expect all personnel to follow the procedures. Support each other in following these procedures.

- Benefits -

These rules do not exist for arbitrary reasons. They should be formulated to enforce the profitable operation of your company.

More than almost any other tool at your disposal, the telephone can interrupt your people and your processes very quickly and repeatedly. If you're not familiar with First Things First by Steven Covey, et al., it is definitely worth your while.

One of the key lessons of that book is to learn the difference between Important and Urgent. Telephone calls can easily seem to be urgent. That doesn't make them important.

When phone communications are not important, then they need to be controlled, no matter how "urgent" they seem.

As a result, you need to craft telephone rules that keep your people on track, efficient, and profitable.

Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Hiring Process


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this very helpful article on phone etiquette. The information are really useful especially to those that work in help desk industry. Cheers!


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